Renowned Educator James P. Comer Wins 2007 Grawemeyer Award

The “godfather” of school reform James P. Comer, M.D., the Maurice Falk Professor of Child Psychiatry at Yale School of Medicine, has won the 2007 University of Louisville Grawemeyer Award in Education.

The prestigious award honors Comer’s commitment to educating the whole child and his view that organizing schools to support the development of children yields positive behavioral and academic outcomes. The award carries a $200,000 prize, the highest cash prize in education.

Recognized nationally and internationally and much honored for his tireless work in promoting child-development principles as a means of improving schools, Comer has over 30 years experience in child development and education. He authored the 2004 book “Leave No Child Behind: Preparing Today’s Youth for Tomorrow’s World.” The premise of both the book and Comer’s pioneering School Development Program (SDP) at the Yale Child Study Center flies in the face of current education trends that focus mainly on raising test scores.

“I am thrilled because this award validates what has been a lonely position,” said Comer. “Our work suggests that lasting education reform must value all aspects of a child’s development. It must address more than raising test scores. We have shown that test scores rise in environments that support overall student development. I am hopeful that the award will help more policymakers pay attention to the importance of development.”

Founded in 1968, Comer’s SDP is based on the idea that all youngsters—regardless of race, geography or cultural and economic background—can learn at high levels. The programs and services that fall under the SDP umbrella help schools ensure that students achieve their highest academic potential. The program has been used in over 1,000 schools in the United States, South Africa, England, Ireland, and the Caribbean, and research has shown it increases achievements among children in low-achieving schools.

Comer calls for teacher training to incorporate a whole-student approach, beyond the standards of a federal No Child Left Behind law that focuses on traditional curriculum, instruction and assessments.

He points to numerous studies that show what is needed: clear goals, high expectations and standards; community support; a respectful and orderly environment; students actively engaged in appropriate learning tasks; teacher competence; teachers and staff members genuinely caring about each student and demanding students’ best efforts; frequent assessment of student achievement, with feedback; public rewards and incentives for student achievement; and administrators possessing the skills and courage to demand and help create all of the conditions listed. The School Development Program provides the framework for bringing these conditions about.

Comer joined the Yale faculty in 1968 and has received prestigious awards including the Smithsonian Institution’s John P. McGovern Behavioral Science Award, the Heinz Award in the Human Condition, the Harold W. McGraw Prize in Education, and the Charles A. Dana Award for Pioneering Achievement in Education. He has also received a special presidential commendation from the American Psychiatric Association and was named to Education Week magazine’s list of 100 people who helped shape American education during the 20th century.

Comer has written and edited several other books including “Maggie’s American Dream: The Life and Times of a Black Family,” “Beyond Black and White,” “School Power: Implications of an Intervention Project,” “Raising Black Children” and “Waiting for a Miracle—Why Schools Can’t Solve Our Problems and How We Can.”

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