The Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education: Three Outstanding Educators Honored
Three outstanding educators who have dedicated their careers to improving education in this country — Ms. Sarita Brown, Dr. Joseph Renzulli, and Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond — were honored recently at the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education ceremony at the New York Public Library. The prestigious awards ceremony, initiated in 1988 and now attended by 250 leaders in education and business, has formerly honored such educational luminaries as former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley and Barbara Bush, founder of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. Each winner receives a gift of $25,000 and a bronze sculpture.
Acting as master of ceremonies for the event, Harold McGraw III — chairman, president and CEO of global publishing giant The McGraw-Hill Companies — kicked off the evening by asserting that “nothing is more important than educating our young people and helping them to achieve their highest potential.” The three honorees for 2009, selected by a 14-member board of judges, brilliantly demonstrated this year’s theme of innovation, “a willingness to experiment and push back frontiers,” according to McGraw.
Accepting her award first, Sarita Brown — who in 2004 founded the national nonprofit Excelencia in Education, where she now serves as its president — has worked to identify effective ways to increase the flow of Latinos into higher education by linking research, policy and practice. Brown began her career at the University of Texas by building a national model for minority success in graduate education; in 2003, she was appointed executive director of the White House Initiative for Educational Excellence for Hispanic Americans under President Bill Clinton. Recognizing that Latinos will comprise one-quarter of the U.S. college-age population by the year 2025, Brown noted that her work is built on three assumptions: the strength of the Latino community (“it is hard-working, family-oriented … and fiercely devoted to the future of this country”); education is the pathway to success; and differences exist between people but they do not need to divide them. She became emotional when she stated about her 5-year-old organization, “We’re just getting started … to have the recognition such as this … is jet propulsion!”
Dr. Joseph Renzulli, next on the podium, has achieved widespread recognition for his contributions to identifying and developing giftedness in young people. Renzulli’s expanded definition of the term “gifted and talented” — which includes such factors as creativity and commitment to task, in addition to above-average ability — has “encouraged educators to think outside the black boxes of IQ measurement and standardized tests,” according to McGraw. A professor of educational psychology at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, Renzulli has developed a school-wide enrichment model “to help schools extend strategies normally reserved for a limited number of gifted children to a wide range of students in regular classrooms.” Used in 2,500 schools nationwide, the “Renzulli model” has dramatically transformed the attitudes of educators and parents toward gifted education, according to McGraw. Accepting his award with humor and a flair for the anecdote, Renzulli modestly described his work as “basically just good common sense before we got buried in things like standards … and endless testing.”
The evening’s final awardee, Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, currently the Charles E. Ducommun Professor of Education at Stanford University, has authored and edited more than a dozen books and hundreds of articles on education policy and practice. Darling-Hammond has tirelessly advocated “to enhance the status of the classroom teacher as a profession … and to place the quality of teacher education at the center of the national debate on school reform,” according to McGraw. Having begun her career as a high school English teacher, Darling-Hammond went on to co-found a day care center, a preschool, and a charter public high school that serves low-income students of color in East Palo Alto, Calif., forging partnerships between schools and teacher training institutions while seeking to make innovation and high quality research the basis for informed policy. In her speech, Darling-Hammond eloquently urged our nation “to build systems in which excellent education is routine for all kids — no exceptions, no excuses.” Noting that Singapore, Korea and Finland turned their erstwhile “low-achieving and inequitable” school systems into ones that are now “high-achieving and equitable,” she added, “We need to figure out how to scale up and institutionalize innovation.” #