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HGSE Remembers David Cohen

Cohen, a leading scholar on teaching, learning, and social policy, and a visiting professor at HGSE, passed away on September 23.
David Cohen

David Cohen in his office at HGSE in 1982.

Harvard Graduate School of Education is remembering longtime faculty member David Cohen, a nationally recognized authority on educational reform and a current visiting professor at the Ed School. Cohen passed away on September 23 at the age of 86.

Cohen had a lengthy and influential faculty career that began when he was appointed as a lecturer on education at HGSE in 1968. He was promoted to associate professor in 1969 and then full professor 1971 — a position he held until his retirement in 1986. Later, he went on to teach at Michigan State University and also the University of Michigan.

"Many of [us] have known David throughout his career as a researcher, teacher, mentor, and friend, and others have known him as a leading intellectual figure, seeking justice and equality for all students. He touched so many of our lives and will be deeply missed," wrote Dean Bridget Long in an email to the HGSE community.

A prolific scholar, Cohen studied and published on teaching, learning, and social policy, often focusing on learning opportunities and outcomes. Through his research, he demonstrated how resources like school funding, teachers’ capacity, class size, curriculum, and teacher compensation made an impact on schooling outcomes, based on how they are interpreted and used to affect the classroom. He also focused on educational policy and reform — what worked and didn’t work, and how to evaluate educational experiments and large-scale interventions. He published books such as Teaching and Its Predicaments (2011); Learning Policy, with Professor Heather Hill (2001); Usable Knowledge: Social Science and Social Problem Solving, with Charles E. Lindblom (1979); The Shopping Mall High School, with Arthur G. Powell and Eleanor Farrar (1985); and The Ordeal of Equality: Can Federal Regulation Fix the Schools? with Susan L. Moffitt (2009).

Prior to his career in academia, Cohen served as consultant to the general counsel of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People on schools and race, and then as director of the Race and Education Project for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. At the latter organization, his research focused on the how schools in the Northern United States preserved segregation by redrawing school district attendance boundaries and how early federal funds targeting under-resourced schools did not greatly improve instruction.

Cohen is survived by his wife, Magdalene Lampert, Ed.D.’91; his daughter Lisa Cohen and her beloved partner Vanessa Haney; his daughter Sarah Cohen; his grandson, Abraham Cohen Tapia; and his brothers, John Cohen and James Cohen, and their wives, Linda Putnam and Mary Gibson.

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