Since its founding in 1920, the Harvard Graduate School of Education has been training professionals to create environments in which teaching can transform lives. HGSE emerged as a leading institution in education thought and practice under the leadership of its third dean, Francis Keppel, who established the school as a home for leading faculty and attracted top students with an innovative Master of Arts in Teaching program.
Several innovative programs emerged through the middle of this century, such as the Laboratory of Human Development (now the Human Development and Psychology program), which began exploring the psychological development of children in 1949, the Administrative Career Program (now the Administration, Planning and Social Policy program) in 1952, and Project Zero, founded to study and improve education in the arts. HGSE experienced a rapid expansion of its facilities with the addition of Larsen Hall in 1965 and Gutman Library in 1972.
In 1982, Patricia Albjerg Graham became the Ed School's sixth dean and the first woman dean of a faculty at Harvard University. Under her tenure, the School continued to evolve to meet the changing needs of the nation. Among other accomplishments, Graham established the Midcareer Math and Science Program which became a national model for meeting the country's need for talented math and science teachers.
The 1990s were a time of great academic and financial expansion for the school. In 1990, the school created the Urban Superintendents Program, the only comprehensive doctoral program preparing school leaders for the challenges of urban school system administration. Over the next decade, the School initiated several new programs including Technology in Education, International Education, and School Leadership. Under the leadership of Dean Jerome T. Murphy, the Ed School completed its first capital campaign totaling $111 million, the largest sum ever raised by a school of education.
Ellen Condliffe Lagemann served as the dean of HGSE from 2002 to 2005. A leading historian of education and expert on education research, Lagemann led the Ed School through a period of transition and progress. The academic program of the school was reformed to emphasize collaboration across academic fields. This multi-disciplinary approach could also be seen in the creation of collaborations between HGSE and other schools at Harvard, most notably the Public Education Leadership Project which brought together the management training of the Business School with the education leadership of the Ed School. In addition, Lagemann also forged a leadership role for HGSE in development of core courses which taught a set of core competencies that are shared across the profession. In all of her initiatives, Lagemann emphasized the creation of knowledge that could be applied and tested in school districts and then reevaluated and reformulated in the academy.
Kathleen McCartney served as dean from 2005 to 2013. Under her leadership, the school launched the Doctor of Education Leadership Program, a first-of-its-kind practice-based education doctoral program; created a universitywide Ph.D. in Education; established the Urban Scholars Fellowship which provides full tuition to teachers from urban schools; and significantly increased financial aid for master’s and doctoral students. In addition, McCartney oversaw a dramatic re-envisioning of the campus including new classrooms in Larsen Hall and a new cafeteria and student center in Gutman Library. Both of these projects received LEED Platinum certification.
On June 10, 2013, Harvard President Drew Faust announced that James Ryan would become the school's 10th dean effective September 1. Ryan, one of the nation’s leading scholars of education law and policy, had served on the faculty of the University of Virginia School of Law since 1998.
Today, over 100 faculty members guide nearly 900 students in doctoral and master's programs each year, and provide training through professional development and executive outreach programs to thousands of teachers, administrators, and educational leaders from across the nation.