Our top stories of 2021

January 24, 2022
Best of 2021 collage

Though 2021 presented all of us with new and even more complicated challenges navigating the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was also a transformative year for Penn GSE. As we take our first steps into 2022, here’s one final glimpse back at our top stories of the previous year. 

Penn GSE ranks #1 in U.S. News & World Report Best Education Schools

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Penn GSE being named #1 in the rankings found its way to #1 in our list. For the first time, Penn’s Graduate School of Education topped the U.S. News & World Report’s rankings for graduate schools of education, sharing the #1 spot with Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. This marked the sixth consecutive year Penn GSE was ranked in the top five. 

“We are honored to be ranked in the top position, especially during this difficult year,” said Penn GSE Dean Pam Grossman. “Credit goes to Penn GSE’s extraordinary faculty, researchers, partners, students, alumni, and staff who work together to further our mission of expanding educational access, especially to those who are underserved or marginalized.” 

 The Best Books for Young Readers of 2020 

Our Best Books list is routinely at or near the top of our most popular articles in a given year, and for good reason: The power of stories to take us to new and better worlds, while always vital, now carries more weight than ever — especially for children in the underserved communities hit hardest by the pandemic and persistent racial and economic injustice. 

Penn GSE’s Humanizing Stories team took the importance of that mission to heart with this, their sixth annual Best Books for Young Readers list. Check out these powerful stories of love, joy, loss, strength, and resilience — and keep an eye out for the 2021 edition of the list, coming soon! 

Zaya Wade and Lil Nas X are making it easier for queer and trans youths to explore their identities 

Representation can be everything for young people exploring their identities, especially Black youth — and seeing young queer and trans celebrities like Zaya Wade, Lil Nas X, and JoJo Siwa can mean the world. 

“Having out Black queer and trans celebrities like (Lil Nas X) and (Wade) in the social media age is really crucial for modeling Black queer and trans self-determination for young people,” Penn GSE associate professor Ed Brockenbrough told USA Today in April. “We can have panel discussions and articles and books, but to have young people who are taking center stage in the realms where other young people are really sort of using to explore their identity is crucial.” 

Teaching Beyond September 11 

Today’s primary and secondary school students were not only born after the attacks of September 11 — they’re also too young to remember much of what transpired in the decade that followed. For teachers, this presents a unique challenge. 

In a piece for The Educator’s Playbook, Penn GSE’s Ameena Ghaffar-Kucher noted the lessons we teach students about September 11 should focus on how it shaped much of the last two decades both in the United States and around the world. Along with a team of educators, scholars, and community activist leaders, Ghaffar-Kucher created the Teaching Beyond September 11 curriculum project to help deepen students’ understandings of how the attacks continue to reverberate in communities across the globe. 

How to get even better at supporting your LGBTQ+ students 

Generation Z doesn’t like labels — so, if you’re an administrator or educator trying to provide a safe, inclusive environment for Gen Z’s LGBTQ+ students, it can get complicated fast. Penn GSE’s Kyle Schultz, a lecturer and licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in working with the queer community, noted the effort is worth it because LGBTQ+ students remember the educators who take those extra steps. 

“I often ask students, why do you remember a teacher or school counselor?” said Schultz. “They tell me it’s because the person made them feel good about themselves.” 

Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education moves from Teachers College, Columbia University to Penn’s Graduate School of Education 

In January, Penn GSE and Teachers College, Columbia University announced the renowned Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education (CBCSE) had moved to Penn GSE — and would, with the retirement of CBCSE founder Henry Levin, be under the leadership of assistant professor Brooks Bowden, who had served as the CBCSE’s Director of Training since 2015. 

“We are so excited to make Penn GSE the new home for the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education,” said Dean Pam Grossman. “This Center builds on Penn GSE’s work to address critical challenges in education related to educational equity — and to be at the forefront of this research. Dr. Bowden has been an outstanding addition to our school, and I am confident she will continue the Center’s legacy of impact.” 

Winners announced for 2021 Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition 

Readlee, a platform that uses artificial intelligence to improve academic outcomes by listening to students read, captured the grand prize at the 12th anniversary Milken-Penn GSE Education Business Plan Competition (EBPC) this October. Considered the most prestigious and well-funded competition of its kind, the EBPC attracts innovative education ventures from around the world. This year’s winners included Readlee, HomeWorks Trenton, Weird Enough Productions, and 9ijakids Educational Games

“The 2021 winners — along with each of their fellow competitors — offer us a bright vision of the future of education,” said Catalyst @ Penn GSE Executive Director Michael Golden. “These entrepreneurs have created unique and targeted solutions to support everything from literacy and parental engagement to career mentorship and guidance, and they share in their commitment to pushing forward educational equity in the United States and beyond.”

How can project-based learning prepare students for the 21st century? 

Using a student-centered approach to create a deep learning experience that also increases equity across education sounds like wishful thinking — but it’s possible, and it’s time to make that the focal point of American education. 

This is the argument of Penn GSE Dean Pam Grossman, Project-Based Learning Certificate Program director Zachary Herrmann, assistant professor Sarah Schneider Kavanagh, and senior fellow Christopher Pupik Dean, who spent years examining a student-centered teaching approach that could accomplish all of these goals. Their book, Core Practices for Project-Based Learning, published in June, takes a deep dive into how a student-centered approach has the potential to empower students to be engaged citizens and take on modern challenges. 

Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education Announces 2021 Winners 

Penn GSE’s prestigious Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education continues to shine a light on people who have had an extraordinary impact on the field. This year’s winners, announced in September, were Richard Baraniuk, Doug and Lynn Fuchs, and Carol D. Lee. Each was recognized for their achievements in higher education, preK-12 education, and learning science research, respectively. 

Since 1988, the McGraw Prize has celebrated innovation in education by recognizing outstanding individuals who have dedicated themselves to improving education and whose accomplishments are making a huge impact. Penn GSE became the new home for the Prize in 2020.

How to be a good parent and a good ally

In a companion piece to “How to get even better at supporting your LGBTQ+ students” (see above), Penn GSE’s Kyle Schultz offered parents a series of helpful tips for how to be a good ally when their child comes out as queer.

From understanding that this conversation with your child starts long before they ever come out to you, to the dos and don’ts of the conversation itself, to understanding that it’s important to follow your child’s lead (rather than assuming they are ready to change their pronouns, name, or gender expression), and finally to just keep listening, Schultz lays out a simple guide — and accompanying resources — to help parents approach the subject supportively.