A team of educators and researchers visiting local schools to help determine whether the Long Beach Unified School District will win public education’s biggest prize, the national Broad Prize for Urban Education, praised schools here for their significant and steady gains in student achievement. The school district in April was named, for a remarkable fourth time, as one of five finalists for the prize, which recognizes the best urban school district in the nation. Only one other school system nationwide has achieved this honor more times than Long Beach — Boston, a five-time finalist. School districts cannot apply for the award, which is given after a thorough and independent analysis of student performance data from the nation’s 100 largest school systems. “We calculated the percentage, the statistical chance that only one of the 100 largest districts in the country would ever be a finalist in four different separate years -- which is the case for Long Beach. That probability is actually less than one one-hundred-thousandth of one percent,” Broad Foundation spokesperson Erica Lepping said during a news conference at Millikan High School today. “It’s amazing to have been a finalist for four years. What that shows us is clearly there is purposeful strategic work going on. This isn’t a matter of a few schools improving here and there in this district. It’s a matter of the entire district working together, with strong leadership, with a vision toward moving every student forward and giving every student opportunity. We think that’s incredible.” Long Beach is now competing with four other school districts for the Broad Prize, which will be announced Oct. 14 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. The reviewers this week are visiting Edison and Signal Hill elementary schools, Hoover Middle School and Millikan High School to collect data and observe best practices. The review team’s findings will help prominent national leaders, including former governors, the former U.S. secretary of education, university presidents and CEOs as they decide whether LBUSD will win the 2008 Broad Prize for Urban Education. The top winner receives $500,000 in student scholarships. Four remaining finalists receive $125,000 each in scholarships. In all, the prize money totals $1 million. The four other finalists include two school systems in Texas and two in Florida. Long Beach won the top prize in 2003.