2021 Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education honorees boast transformative accomplishments, Penn ties

Many people will work to advance education in their lifetime, but only a select few will change the field as profoundly as the winners of the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education. Often regarded as the “Nobel Prize of Education” because of its international prestige and impact, the McGraw Prize is awarded annually in three categories. It is awarded to leaders who are pushing beyond the boundaries of the current education landscape and revolutionizing the field, changing countless lives along the way.

This year, the winners are Douglas H. and Lynn S. Fuchs, recognized in the PreK-12 education category; Richard G. Baraniuk, in higher education; and Carol D. Lee, in learning science research.

“Our Prize winners are outstanding leaders who have devoted their careers to closing gaps and accelerating educational opportunity for all students,” says Harold McGraw III, former chair, CEO and president of The McGraw Hill Companies.

The McGraw Prize was established in 1988 by the McGraw-Hill board to honor Harold W. McGraw, Jr., then-Chairman and CEO of the company. Throughout his life—building on his grandfather’s legacy as a teacher—McGraw was a vocal and vigorous advocate for education. He believed that society needed to celebrate the role of educators, which is why the winners each receive $50,000 in addition to international recognition and an iconic awards sculpture.

In 2020, the McGraw family selected a new home for the prize: Penn Graduate School of Education, recognized internationally for its cutting-edge initiatives, distinguished faculty and as a training ground for top educators and leaders.

Past winners include elected officials, university presidents, professors, nonprofit leaders, even First Ladies. In the prize’s three-decade history, there have been multiple recipients with a connection to the University or Penn GSE. But 2021 stands out in that all four winners have ties: The Fuchs earned master’s degrees in elementary education from Penn GSE; Baraniuk mentored a doctoral student, Fernando Gama, from Penn; and Lee published a book chapter through Penn GSE’s former Center for the Study of Race and Equity in Education.

“We’re honored not only that the McGraw family chose us as the home for this prestigious prize, but also that we get to continue to play an integral part helping these leading minds push their innovative, thought-provoking work out into the mainstream,” says Pam Grossman, GSE dean.

PreK-12 education
Douglas H. & Lynn S. Fuchs of Vanderbilt University are the 2021 McGraw Prize winners in the PreK-12 Education category. They both graduated from Penn GSE in 1973 with master’s degrees in elementary education.

In their more than three decades of innovation, research, and advocacy, the Fuchs have played a key role in improving the educational trajectories of children with special learning needs ranging from academically talented to academically at-risk.

Their pioneering early screening process identifies students at risk for academic problems, upending the traditional “wait to fail” approach that pushes far too many children out of the mainstream classroom permanently.

Higher education
Engineer, entrepreneur, and researcher Richard G. Baraniuk from Rice University, the 2021 McGraw Prize winner in Higher Education, has pushed the boundaries on personalized learning and revolutionized college publishing by putting free and open-source books in the hands of tens of millions of students and faculty worldwide through OpenStax.

In thinking about his career and the change that has occurred over the past few decades, Baraniuk is beginning to envision what the future of education might look like. “The more we study how people learn, the more complicated we realize it is. And every research question or education question that gets answered opens up five new questions,” he says. “And so, I think that we’re moving into really a golden age of not just scaling education to billions of people, but researching what really works in education, what doesn’t work, and how it depends on the context of the person, because every person is different.”

Learning science research
Carol D. Lee from Northwestern University, the 2021 McGraw Prize winner in Learning Science Research, has had a profound and lasting impact on the learning sciences by introducing transformative perspectives to the field.

In her five-decade career, Lee adopted a broad ecological focus, closely attending to the role of culture in learning and literacy. She addresses how the organization of learning environments contributes to wholistic development of youth. Her work has led to significant practical implications for how educators can support learning using an intersectional lens, particularly for African American youth.

“The innovative thinking and impact that exemplify these great minds benefits educators around the globe. Those educators proactively move the evidence-based insights of these winners into practice by adapting them in their own learning environments,” says Michael Golden, executive director of Catalyst @ Penn GSE.

This year’s celebration of the McGraw Prize winners will be hosted virtually November 10. For more information, visit McGrawPrize.com.

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