Theodore R. Sizer, 77, a leading progressive educator who promoted the creation of “essential schools” to improve public education one school at a time and who thought that teachers function best as mentors or coaches to their students, died Oct. 21 at his home in Harvard, Mass. He had colon cancer.
In a career that spanned five decades, Dr. Sizer was dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, headmaster at the private Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass., and chairman of Brown University’s education department.
Dr. Sizer’s view of education reform — with a premium on classroom creativity, bottom-up innovation and multiple measures of student learning — was often at odds with the movement toward state standards, achievement testing and school accountability that culminated in the 2002 No Child Left Behind law.
Dr. Sizer scoffed at public policies that elevated multiple-choice testing to central importance while neglecting the physical and academic environment of schools.