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National Blue Ribbon Schools

A federal No Child Left Behind program that celebrates many of America's most successful schools. Its goal is to promote and support the improvement of education in America.

Program Information

A component of the California Department of Education (CDE) California School Recognition Program (CSRP), the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program recognizes public and private elementary, middle, and high schools based on their overall academic excellence or their progress in closing achievement gaps among student subgroups. Originated by Secretary of Education Terrel H. Bell in 1982, the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program is an important part of the U.S. Department of Education (ED). The coveted National Blue Ribbon School award affirms the hard work of students, educators, families, and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content. The National Blue Ribbon School flag gracing an entry or flying overhead is a widely recognized symbol of exemplary teaching and learning.

Additional information about the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program can be found on the U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon Schools Program External link opens in new window or tab. website.

In addition, schools nominated for the National Blue Ribbon Schools Award can nominate their school principal for the Terrel H. Bell Award during the final stages of the National Blue Ribbon Schools application process. Additional information about the Terrel H. Bell Award can be found on the U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon Schools The Terrel H. Bell Award for Outstanding Leadership External link opens in new window or tab. website.

Eligibility Criteria

The ED invites Chief State School Officers (CSSOs) for all states and the District of Columbia, the territories, the Bureau of Indian Education (BIE), and the Department of Defense Education Activity (DoDEA) to nominate schools for recognition as National Blue Ribbon Schools. In submitting nominated schools, the CSSO of each state and these entities must certify that the nominated schools meet the minimum requirements established by the ED for nomination. States and nominating entities must rely on their accountability and assessment systems to identify schools for submission to the U.S. Secretary of Education.

At least one-third of the public schools nominated by each state must be schools with a high percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. What constitutes "disadvantaged backgrounds" is defined by the CSSO of each state. The definition may include economically disadvantaged students, that is, students who are eligible for free and reduced-price school meals; students with disabilities; students who are English language learners; migrant students; and/or students receiving services under Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015. "High percentage" means at least 40 percent unless a state has found that this threshold precludes identifying a sufficient number of such schools. Such a state may propose to use a percentage lower than 40 percent as long as the proposed percentage is no lower than the state's overall (average) percentage of students from disadvantaged backgrounds as defined by the state.

Each state's nomination criteria must pertain equally to all public schools nominated by the state. The nomination criteria for high schools include additional performance criteria based on graduation rates and measures of college and career readiness, but these criteria must pertain equally to all nominated high schools. The ED also recommends that nominated schools reasonably reflect the demographic and geographic diversity of the state's public schools.

Performance Award Criteria

In order to be eligible for nomination, a school must meet several criteria based on the performance of its students on state assessments in reading (or English language arts) and mathematics or a composite of performance on these assessments with other measures of student performance (e.g., student growth on state assessments, performance on state assessments in other subjects, graduation rates, or other indicators in the state's accountability system).

Public schools may be nominated in either of two performance award categories:

  1. Exemplary High Performing
  2. Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing

In addition to meeting the above performance criteria, a nominated school must have at least 100 students enrolled and have assessment data for at least 10 students in each tested grade for both reading (or English language arts) and mathematics. States with a large percentage of schools with fewer than 100 students enrolled may include up to a similar percentage of these schools in their nominations. However, each school must have assessment data for at least 10 students in each tested grade for both reading (or English language arts) and mathematics.

All nominated public schools must meet the state's measures of interim progress in the state accountability system or other performance targets that are set for the school year in question in at least reading (or English language arts) and mathematics and graduation rates and possibly other academic indicators, for the all students group. Additionally, nominated schools must have assessment participation rates of at least 95 percent using the most recent accountability results available, for the all students group. Finally, in order to meet all eligibility requirements, all nominated public schools must be certified by the state prior to each years September announcement of National Blue Ribbon Schools by the U.S. Secretary of Education.

Additional information about the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program Eligibility Criteria can be found on the U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon Schools Program Eligibility and Performance Award Criteria External link opens in new window or tab. website.

Eligibility and Performance Award Criteria for Non-Public Schools

The ED invites the Council for American Private Education (CAPE) External link opens in new window or tab. to nominate non-public schools that meet the criteria for recognition. Information, including eligibility criteria and application instructions and deadlines, for non-public schools can be found on the CAPE National Blue Ribbon Schools Program External link opens in new window or tab. website.

Application

Eligible schools are those submitted by authorized nominators, CSSOs and CAPE, which meet the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program eligibility and performance award criteria. Once the ED receives the nominations from the CSSOs and CAPE, the U.S. Secretary of Education extends an invitation to apply to the nominated schools. Nominated schools then complete a comprehensive, high quality application according to Program timelines.

Additional information about the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program Application can be found on the U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon Schools Program Applicant Information External link opens in new window or tab. website.

Timeline of Activities

Date Activity
February 9, 2021

The U.S. Department of Education sends public schools nominated by CSSOs an invitation to apply for recognition as 2021 National Blue Ribbon Schools.

April 9, 2021

Completed public and non-public school applications are due to the U.S. Department of Education.

September 21, 2021
The U.S. Secretary of Education announces the public and non-public 2021 National Blue Ribbon Schools.
November 4-5, 2021

Two representatives from each school, the principal and a teacher, attend the recognition ceremony in Washington, DC.

Sponsors

We are thankful for our California School Recognition Program Sponsors who help to make the National Blue Ribbon Schools Program a success! The CSRP would not be successful without the generous support they provide. We appreciate their willingness to support our efforts to recognize California's exemplary schools, teachers, and classified school employees, for achievement and for advancing excellence in education.

Resources

California School Recognition Program Awards Ceremony
Photographs and video information about the California School Recognition Program Awards Ceremony.

California School Recognition Program Merchandise
Information about California School Recognition Program merchandise.

National Blue Ribbon Schools Awardees
California's National Blue Ribbon Schools Awardees by year.

National Terrel H. Bell Awardees
California's National Terrel H. Bell Awardees.

U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon Schools Downloadable Logo External link opens in new window or tab.
U.S. Department of Education National Blue Ribbon Schools downloadable logo for use by National Blue Ribbon Schools Awardees.

Questions: Awards Unit | awards@cde.ca.gov | 916-319-0842 
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, September 29, 2021