Broad Prize Throwdown!

Andy Smarick doesn’t like the Broad Prize and says so here.  Mike Casserly likes the prize and this year’s winner and responds here.  It’s a debate worth reading because it surfaces some important issues with implications beyond The Broad Prize. But it seems to me Andy and Mike are also talking past each other to a large extent. Mike is right that Andy doesn’t go out of his way to note the progress some urban districts have made or put that progress in context. But Mike is simply playing a bad hand, the performance of almost all urban districts is simply appalling and you don’t have to be disciple of Andy’s preferred remedies to see that.

As for the Broad Prize – and I’m a longtime member of the review board that selects the finalists – Mike is right that it’s avowedly about improvement. Unfortunately, that nuance often doesn’t permeate, and so the prize is too often consumed as a coronation rather than a modest way station.  When Norfolk, Virginia won I was serving on Virginia’s Board of Education and it was dismaying to watch the rhetoric quickly evolve from ‘Norfolk is improving’ to ‘Norfolk is great and should be celebrated, it’s a national model!’ Norfolk was no great shakes then, or now, and in fact hasn’t even been a finalist or really heard from since its breakout year.  That’s a point for Andy, along with the small cluster of districts that emerge again and again (Houston is now a two time winner).  We can learn from those places, and that’s a point for Mike, but the underlying lesson is that we probably shouldn’t take anything reasonable off the table at this point given just how grim the outcomes are.

All this leaves me thinking that the Prize has a challenge of messaging – who wants to compete for an award that comes with a certificate saying you still suck? – more than one of design. I like rewarding improvement by awarding scholarships to students who are in this mess through no fault of their own. That, along with all the data I get to see as a reviewer, is a large part of why I give unpaid time to it each year. Still, that improvement does need to be couched in some uncomfortable context and arguably more than it sometimes is.

One Reply to “Broad Prize Throwdown!”

  1. I have to agree. I spent last year working for Uncommon and the recognition given them through the prize was well deserved. Andy’s criticism of it however is also correct. I think though it comes down to the question of how to better use the prize rather than keeping it or not. Getting rid of the prize won’t fix the problems either, but perhaps focusing it on improvement or specific schools’ success will make it more meaningful.

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