David K. Cohen

David K. Cohen

August 16th, 1934 September 23rd, 2020

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Obituary for David K. Cohen

David was beloved as a teacher, writer, cook, and gardener. His legacy lives on in the family he loved and inspired, in the beautiful home and garden he created in Somerville, Massachusetts with his wife,Magdalene, in his scholarly publications, and in the work of the many colleagues,students,and educators whose lives he touched,and in the lives they will touch.On August 21, 2020, David was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lymphoma. He was able to be at home for a month,say goodbye to his family,and offer much wit and wisdom about dying and living to his loved ones.A prolific scholar of teaching, learning, and social policy, David was a renowned writer and beloved teacher and mentor.At the heart of his work was a focus on instruction and on the transactions that interact to produce students’ learning opportunities and learning outcomes. Through his research, he has shown that resources––school funding, teachers’ capacity, class size, curriculum, teacher compensation––impact the outcomes of schooling but only as a function of how they are deployed, interpreted, and used, and how those uses ultimately affect what happens inside the classroom. Author of seven books and numerous highly influential essays, he received the American Educational Research Association’s Palmer O. Johnson Award in 2004 and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the
Educational Policy and Politics Division in 2015. He was an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Education.From 2015 until 2020, David was a visiting faculty member at Harvard Graduate School of Education, where he had been a tenured faculty member from 1971 until 1984. He became the John Hannah Chair at Michigan State University’s College of Education in 1984. He was Professor Emeritus at the University of Michigan.Prior to his career in academia, David was consultant to the general counsel of the NAACP on schools and race (1964-66)and then director of the Race and Education Project for U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (1966-67) where his research established both how Northern schools preserved segregation by redrawing school district attendance boundaries and how early federal funds targeted toward under-resourced schools did not greatly improve instruction.David is survived by his wife Magdalene Lampert, his daughter Lisa Cohen and her beloved partner Vanessa Haney, his daughter Sarah Cohen, his grandson Abraham Cohen Tapia, and his brothers John Cohen an dJames Cohen and their wives Linda Putnam and Mary Gibson.

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Service Details

  • Interment

    Mount Auburn Cemetery
    580 Mount Auburn Street
    Cambridge, Massachusetts
    Get Directions: View Map | Text | Email |

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Elizabeth Willis has honored the life of David K. Cohen by planting a memorial tree.
Planted in the area of greatest need

Alan & Eileen Ruby

Alan & Eileen Ruby planted 3 memorial trees for David K. Cohen

Plant a tree
Comment | Posted at 11:10am via Premium Tree

Lok-Sze Wong

Dear Magdalene, Lisa, Sarah, and Abe, Planting trees is such a perfect way to continue spreading David's love and joy. My heart is with you.

Lok-Sze Wong planted 3 memorial trees for David K. Cohen

Plant a tree
Comment | Posted at 07:19pm via Premium Tree

Carol and Mike Barnes

Maggie, Lisa, Sarah and Abe, We are pleased to plant these trees in David's memory and will plant another here in Michigan to watch it grow.

Carol and Mike Barnes planted 3 memorial trees for David K. Cohen

Plant a tree
Comment | Posted at 12:22am via Premium Tree

Joseph McDonald

David lives on in all of the teachers and researchers and writers and learners he taught. I am deeply grateful to be one of these. My voice owes so much to him. My sympathies to Maggie and his children. I'm so glad that I gave him a big hug when I met him last spring - the memory of it comforts me.
Comment | Posted at 12:33pm via Condolence


David is missed and will be missed by us for his friendship, intellectual guidance, counsel and encouragement and good meals foraged for and prepared together.
Comment | Posted at 11:09am via Condolence

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