In the United States, 70 percent of eighth graders cannot read proficiently. For many kids in urban areas, stats like this can make getting a proper education feel hopeless. The Miami-Dade School District in Florida, however, is showing the rest of the country why this doesn't have to be the case.
On Tuesday, this district won the 2012 Broad Prize for Urban Education with a unanimous vote. Each year, The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation gives $550,000 in scholarships to a district that demonstrates the strongest student achievement and does the best job at reducing achievement gaps among low-income and minority students.
Philanthropist Eli Broad has spent over a decade working to dramatically transform American urban public education so that all children receive the skills and knowledge to succeed in college, careers, and in life.
TakePart spoke with Eli Broad about the success at Miami-Dade schools and what the rest of the country needs to do to follow in this district's footsteps.
What stood out about the Miami-Dade School District?
Miami-Dade was voted unanimously by the jury. They've been a finalist for five years in a row. They got the prize because they raised graduation rates, they improved college readiness, they are getting students up to advanced academic levels, and they've got a culture where everyone works together—whether it's the teachers, teachers union, school board, the superintendent and others. It's a very impressive effort.
Statistics show that one-half of new teachers leave urban classrooms within three years. What needs to be done to ensure that districts keep talented teachers?
You've got to create better working conditions, greater respect for teachers, and better compensation—especially for those who are high achievers. I think the teaching profession is going to improve. It has to because we're going to go to blended learning, which means taking the best of technology and the best of teachers.
You've spoken about how far behind America is when it comes to education. How do you think we can catch up to other nations?
We've got a lot to do to catch up and one of the ways to catch up is to use blended learning technology, which will frankly leap above a lot of the status quo interests. Technology and blended learning will be a big game changer.
What do you think people can do to help improve school districts where they live?
For one, they've got to say we want school choice. We want parents to have the ability to choose a public school, whether it's a regular public school or a charter school. We've got to have more competition in public education, the way you have in higher education between public and private universities. We are starting to see more of that.
Why is the issue of education in America so important to you?
Well, for one, I think that if you want to get rid of poverty, you've got to educate more and more people. Two, if we want to be more competitive in the world, we've got to educate our people and have a more impressive workforce. The Council on Foreign Relations came out with a report saying education is a national security issue. They commented that 70 percent of people ages 18-24 are not fit to serve in our military.
What inspired you to dedicate much of your life to education reform?
I got inspired to do something as a result of my visits to China, India, Japan, Korea, and northern European nations. I saw that we're falling behind, and they're making great progress. We've got to turn it around, and we've got to get back to where we used to be with the number one graduation rate. There's a lot to do.
Jenny is the Education Editor at TakePart. She has been writing for TakePart since 2009 and previously worked in film and television development. She has taught English in Vietnam and tutors homeless children in Los Angeles. Email Jenny | @jennyinglee | TakePart.com