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Former U.S. Commissioner of Education and HGSE Faculty Member, Harold “Doc” Howe II, Dies at 84
Harvard Graduate School of Education
December 2, 2002

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Harold Howe II, U.S. Commissioner of Education during the Johnson administration and senior lecturer emeritus at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, died on Friday, November 29 in Hanover, N.H. He had been a resident of Kendal at Hanover, an assisted-living facility, for five years. He was 84.

Harold 'Doc' Howe II
Harold Howe II (photo: Martha Stewart)  

Howe, who had been known as “Doc” since he was a boy, was born in Hartford, Conn. in 1918. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Yale University in 1940 and received a master’s degree in history from Columbia University in 1947. He joined the U.S. Navy in 1942 and served as a minesweeper during World War II.

Howe’s 50-year career spanned education’s broad range, from teacher to the federal government’s top education post. He taught history at schools in New York and Massachusetts and served as a high school principal in Ohio and Massachusetts. In 1960 he became superintendent of schools in Scarsdale, N.Y. until 1964.

As U.S. Commissioner of Education from 1965-68, Howe was charged with distributing federal funding to public schools under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which provided financial support to nearly 27,000 school districts. “I had the job of setting up a system for doing something nobody had ever done before,” recalled Howe in 2000. He also directed the federal government’s role in abolishing school segregation under the 1964 Civil Rights Act by providing federal funding to school districts that could prove they did not discriminate on the basis of race.

Upon leaving the U.S. Office of Education, Howe worked briefly in India for the Ford Foundation. He then became vice president at the Ford Foundation from 1971-81. As vice president he created two major programs to support minorities in higher education, which resulted in a substantial increase in African-American and Hispanic Ph.D.’s, and supported projects in school finance reform.

Howe joined the Harvard Graduate School of Education as a senior lecturer in 1982. During his time at HGSE, Howe played an influential role in developing and establishing programs to certify teachers, principals and superintendents. In 1982 he played a major role in establishing the Principals’ Center, which is dedicated to the professional and personal development of school leaders. He retired from HGSE in 1994.

In 2000 HGSE named a student fellowship and chair in his honor. Former dean Jerome T. Murphy currently holds the chair. Says Murphy: “Few individuals have had a greater impact on the beliefs and practices of American educators than Harold Howe II. Doc has thought deeply about education and the well-being of all children, and his sensible and passionate efforts in support of both have transformed the direction of schools and America’s educational values.”

Susan Moore Johnson, the Carl H. Pforzheimer, Jr. Professor of Teaching and Learning at HGSE, said of her former colleague and friend, “Doc was a hero for so many of us in education. He always stood for kids, especially those schools failed to serve. He kept us honest.”

Always a staunch advocate for improving educational opportunities for children from poor families, in 1986 he organized and chaired the Commission on Work, Family and Citizenship, which studied the experiences of non-college bound youth. The Commission, with support from the W.T. Grant Foundation, published the report, “The Forgotten Half: Pathways to Success for America’s Youth,” which outlined the needs and problems of this group and recommended a number of solutions.

Howe authored numerous books and articles, including in 1993 Thinking About Our Kids: An Agenda for American Education, in which he calls for the country to reassess its education goals by recognizing the educational roles and responsibilities that families and communities have. In 1994 he received the Harold W. McGraw, Jr. Prize in Education in recognition of his 50 years of service in advancing educational opportunities for all children.

In 1940, Howe married the former Priscilla “Sibby” Lamb, who died in 2001. He is survived by his two daughters, Catherine Short and Merrill Leavitt, his son, Gordon, and his five grandchildren.

A memorial service is planned for Saturday, January 4, 2003, at 2:00 p.m. It will be held at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, in the Gutman Library Conference Center. Cards or notes of condolence can be sent to Howe's children: Cathy Short, 25 Garrity Road, Lee, NH 03824; Merrill Leavitt, 672 Cherry Street, Denver, CO 80220; and Gordon Howe, 37 Wichmann Road, Attadale WA 6156 Australia.

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