2023 McGraw Prize winners selected for improving Pre-K–12 student outcomes, increasing college graduation rates, facilitating adult learning, and more

September 27, 2023
Superimposed over the McGraw Prize logo are three overlapping circles depicting 2023 prize winners, from left to right, Morgan State University President Dr. David Wilson, Superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education Dr. Debra Duardo, and Oakland University Distinguished Professor of Engineering Dr. Barbara Oakley.

The 2023 Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education winners, from left to right: Morgan State University President Dr. David Wilson (Higher Education Prize), Superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education Dr. Debra Duardo (Pre-K–12 Education Prize), and Oakland University Distinguished Professor of Engineering Dr. Barbara Oakley (Lifelong Learning).

The Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Family Foundation and Penn GSE announced today that Debra Duardo, David Wilson, and Barbara Oakley have been selected as this year’s winners of the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education. The winners were selected for groundbreaking work in pre-K–12 classrooms, on university campuses, and in lifelong learning, respectively.

Penn GSE Dean Katharine Strunk said the winners have set an example for educators looking to improve their students’ learning to follow across all age groups.

“As we look for ways to transform education, we should look to the work of these three innovators and leaders,” said Strunk, a leading expert on improving student achievement. “They have had a tremendous impact—enabling countless students and lifelong learners to access a high-quality education and thrive socio-emotionally and academically. So rarely do giants in the field get the recognition they deserve, and the McGraw Prize is a wonderful opportunity to highlight the innovators who are making a difference.”

McGraw Prize awardees are selected through a public nomination process in which candidates are submitted by their peers, followed by three rounds of judging, including a final round by an independent panel of leaders in the field. Each winner will receive an award of $50,000 and an iconic awards sculpture at a ceremony on November 8.

The McGraw Family Foundation selected Penn GSE as the home for the McGraw Prize in 2020 for its internationally recognized cutting-edge initiatives, distinguished faculty, and status as a training ground for top educators and leaders. The partnership includes administering the annual prize in November as well as ongoing programming with more than 100 past winners, including symposia and a webinar series.

This year marks the first time a McGraw Prize has been awarded for lifelong learning, a recognition of our society’s changing need to help learners of all ages grow in and out of the classroom.

The Lifelong Learning Prize was awarded to Dr. Barbara Oakley, Distinguished Professor of Engineering at Oakland University. Oakley teaches how insights from neuroscience can be used to improve how we learn and teach challenging concepts in math, engineering, and other STEM fields, as well as learning languages, music, sports, and art. Her free massive open online courses (MOOCs) for educators, parents, corporate leaders, and midlife learners have been taken by more than 5 million people worldwide.

Dr. Debra Duardo, the superintendent of the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), was awarded the Pre-K–12 Education Prize for her work integrating resources and activities to improve student outcomes, individual and collective well-being, and organizational excellence. Taking a “whole-child, whole-family” approach, Duardo has initiated key programs at LACOE, the nation’s most populous and diverse regional education agency, such as the Road to Success partnership with UCLA to increase access to career technical and continuing education for justice-impacted youth.

The California legislature has allocated $4 billion to scale up LACOE’s Expanded Community Schools Pilot under Duardo’s leadership as a blueprint for creating a learning environment in which children thrive. Duardo also created a Wellbeing Branch to provide mental health services to districts through multi-agency collaboration in response to pandemic-related crises and aftershocks.

Morgan State University President Dr. David Wilson earned the Higher Education Prize. During his tenure at Morgan State, he has dramatically increased graduation rates by revamping the university’s advising model and trailblazing the use of predictive analytics to identify students at risk of dropping out. A strong advocate of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), he previously served as chair of the HBCU/China Network and was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve on the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs. He has also engaged with adult learners in the local Baltimore community around Morgan State and granted college credit for their prior learning experience.

“The McGraw Prize was established in 1988 to honor my father’s commitment to education and literacy and today continues to shine a spotlight on innovative and outstanding educators who empower our students and enhance our society,” said Harold McGraw III, former Chairman, CEO, and President of The McGraw-Hill Companies. “This year’s winners demonstrated exceptional achievement over an extended period of time and in the face of unprecedented challenges posed by the Covid crisis. Their dedication to student success is both exceptional and inspiring.”