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Dean Theodore Sizer, 1932-2009

Dean Theodore SizerFormer Harvard Graduate School of Education Dean Theodore Sizer will be remembered as many things during his remarkable 50-year career in education, among them - teacher, education reformer, leader, and mentor. Sizer, 77, died yesterday at his Harvard, Mass. home.

"Ted's contributions to education are numerous and far-reaching," said Dean Kathleen McCartney in a statement to the Ed School community. "As a member of the HGSE faculty, as dean, and as a visionary in education, Ted made an enduring impact through his teaching and scholarship, but also his unsurpassed wisdom and insight. We extend our deepest sympathies to his wife, Nancy, his four children, and all of Ted's family and friends."

In 1964, at only 31-years-old, Sizer, M.A.T.'57, was named dean. A 1964 HGSE Bulletin introduced Sizer to the Harvard community as "an energetic man with a ready smile" who would oversee 80 faculty and 750 students.

"Everyone knew him as the 'boy dean' because when he was elected dean, he was very young, which was very unusual," said Professor Patricia Alberg Graham, a former dean of the Ed School. Graham noted that because of his age, Sizer was full of promise. "He came from a wonderful academic family, he was intelligent, and a very warm person." Graham remarked it was those very qualities about Sizer that would go on to attract many bright, young people to the Ed School.

Born into a family of educators in Connecticut, Sizer began his career in education as an English and mathematics teacher at the Roxbury Latin School in Boston. Teaching would always remain an important part of Sizer's work, as well as a factor in his guidance to others seeking education careers.

"It was Ted Sizer, who convinced me to begin my career as a teacher and was very supportive during the various stages of my career as an educator," said Professor Thomas Payzant, whom Sizer also persuaded to apply to the M.A.T. program. "He was delighted to know when I became a member of the HGSE faculty in the fall of 2006 and I am so grateful for what he did to get me launched in 1962. I am glad he started me on the road less traveled. He indeed did make all the difference."

Liz Whisnant, now principal of the Horace Mann Elementary School in Washington, D.C., began teaching in part because of advice given to her by Sizer, who said that if she wanted to reform education, she should first start by being a teacher.

Following his initial years of teaching, Sizer went back to school, earning a master's in teaching at the Ed School. After graduation, he earned a position on the faculty as an assistant professor, eventually becoming director of the Master of Arts in Teaching Program. By 31, he had earned his doctorate, published two books, and had been named dean.

During his eight years as dean, Sizer recruited many talented scholars to HGSE, oversaw the development of diverse student populations, and presided over the completion of Larsen Hall and Gutman Library. He also played a vital role in expanding the school's activities in developmental psychology and public policy in education.

"He was an incredible connector," recalled Professor Howard Gardner. "He knew everybody, was on good terms with people, and helped the career development of many people. There were hundreds, or thousands, of people who went through his shop. He had a human influence on many people."

Gardner was just one of the many people that Sizer influenced. In fact, Gardner said Project Zero would not exist without Sizer. "I owe much of my professional identity to Sizer's interest in arts and humanities," he said.

"I can think of no other individual who has touched the lives of so many though his teaching, writing, and leadership," said Senior Lecturer Kay Merseth. "My professional and personal life has been immeasurably enriched by his presence."

Upon leaving the Ed School in 1972, in what many considered a surprising move, Sizer went on to head Phillips Academy in Andover. Sizer told The Harvard Crimson he was eager "to return to teaching and secondary education, particularly given the stresses and changes afoot within the schools." At Phillips Academy, he made many significant changes including turning the historically all-boys school into a co-educational institution.

After nine years at the academy, Sizer reportedly found himself reflecting on how good education ideas never pan out in practice. He returned to higher education at Brown University as a professor and where he founded two instrumental organizations, both with missions close to Sizer: the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and the Coalition for Essential Schools. The coalition aimed to put his research into actual schools and resulted in three well-known books, Horace's Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School, Horace's School: Redesigning the American High School, and Horace's Hope: What Works for the American High School.

Through the books and coalition, Sizer established nine common principles -- many still used today -- for school reform projects, including learning to use one's mind well, personalization, student-as-worker/teacher-as-coach, demonstration of mastery, a tone of decency and trust, commitment to the entire school, and democracy and equity. Additionally, the coalition has grown to roughly 600 schools today.

"We owe a debt to Ted and Nancy Sizer," Wood Smethurst, Ed.D.'70, founder and headmaster of Ben Franklin Academy in Atlanta, Ga., a coalition member, told Ed. magazine. "His hope, and ours, is [for schools to be able] to express more of our individuality and ideas."

By the 1990s, Sizer had earned the moniker of "America's most famous educational reformer" by Teacher Magazine. Although retirement beckoned, Sizer clearly felt a need to continue his lifelong work in education. In 1997, he returned to HGSE where he remained a visiting professor and lecturer until 2006.

Undoubtedly, Sizer's five decades in education leave a legacy that stretches far beyond HGSE's history to the indelible mark on educators and children in the world. "Sizer is the end of the twentieth century continuation of progressive education in America," Gardner said.

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