Ronald D. Thorpe, Jr., President and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards and lifelong education advocate, died at home in Norwalk, CT on July 1st after a year-long battle with lung cancer. He was 63 years old.
Dr. Thorpe spent nearly forty years tenaciously pursuing his belief in the power and necessity of excellent educators. His storied career began in 1974 when he became a teaching fellow in Latin and Greek at Phillips Academy Andover in Massachusetts. He served as legendary educator Ted Sizer’s assistant until 1980, a position which he credited for shaping his vision of education’s ultimate goals. He tested that vision time and again as the dean of faculty and chief academic officer at Kingswood-Oxford School; as a foundation executive at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, Rhode Island Foundation, and Wallace Foundation; and in the not-for-profit world at WNET, the nation’s flagship public television station, where he was the vice president for education.
Most recently, Dr. Thorpe served as the President and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, an organization that provides national, voluntary certification of teachers who meet the rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers should know and be able to do. Thorpe’s professional passion, and the culmination of his life’s work, was to help transform teaching into a true profession. He fought tirelessly to empower more than 3 million teachers to shape themselves into a workforce that resembles our nation’s physicians. This, despite a society that believes that anyone can teach. This, despite a profession so demanding that the mode is just one year of experience.
During his tenure at NBPTS, Thorpe raised more than $70 million in new investments to fund the first major overhaul of teacher certification in more than a decade. He embedded NBPTS standards into teacher preparation programs, to ensure that teachers receive crucial training before they enter the classroom. He advocated for universal teacher residency, not unlike medical residency, for teachers to complete after college and before they start teaching on their own. Most importantly, he encouraged teachers to become leaders and effect change in their profession.
By focusing on the workforce, Thorpe’s vision for the profession gained traction around the country. He garnered support from rank-and-file teachers, from the NEA and AFT, from support groups such as AACTE and state licensing boards, and from a growing coalition of like-minded people who agree that the teaching profession deserves to evolve in the 21st century the way the medical profession evolved during the 20th century. Thorpe understood that the time for teachers is now.
His most expansive writing about his vision for the education profession appeared in the Special Education Issue of the New England Journal of Public Policy (Fall/Winter 2014; Vol. 26, Issue 1: “Sustaining the Profession” pp. 45-67). Additionally, he was the editor of “The First Year As Principal” (Heinemann, 1995) and the executive producer of Where We Stand: America’s Schools in the 21st Century, a national PBS broadcast hosted by Judy Woodruff in September 2008. Among Thorpe’s legacies is Teaching and Learning, an annual conference in Washington, D.C. where the best minds come together to advance the teaching profession and ensure that all of today’s students are prepared for tomorrow’s world.
Thorpe grew up in Carlisle, PA, and attended the public schools there. He graduated from Harvard College, where he majored in classics, and earned both his master's and doctorate degrees at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Dr. Thorpe was pre-deceased by his mother, Audrey Eppley Thorpe and his brother, Christopher Thorpe. He is survived by his wife, Margaret Honey; daughter, Katherine Kerr and son-in-law, Terrance Kerr; stepson, John Honey-Fitzgerald; father, Ronald Thorpe, Sr. and step-mother, Deborah Thorpe; brother, William Thorpe; nephews, Christopher and Daniel Thorpe, and Zachary Thompson; sisters-in-law Judy Prescott and Donna Thompson; and step-sister Anne Walizer and her husband Stephen.