ARLINGTON, VA—July 1, 2015 — An education leader who called for elevating teaching to the ranks of esteemed professions such as medicine and engineering, Dr. Ronald Thorpe, president and CEO of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, lost his battle with cancer today.
“Visionary is an overused word, but in Ron’s case, it’s the right one,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who presented Thorpe with a lifetime achievement award in March. “He’s deepened the understanding of the teaching profession for the nation and the world.”
Joining the National Board shortly after its 25th anniversary in 2011, Thorpe reinvigorated the organization with the goal of making Board certification the norm for every teacher, challenging the notion that it was an elite credential that few teachers could hope to achieve. This vision of building a continuum in the teaching profession was embraced by more than 100 organizations, from rigorous pre-service preparation to Board certification and leadership roles for accomplished teachers.
The Executive Committee tapped Peggy Brookins, a Board-certified teacher, to serve as interim president and CEO. Brookins has served as executive vice president since December 2014.
“We have lost an inspirational leader, and while we mourn his loss, Ron has left us with a clear compass and solid footing to continue the important work that he started,” Brookins said.
Former West Virginia Gov. Bob Wise, chairman of the NBPTS Board of Directors and president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, said: “Ron’s belief that teachers must be at the forefront of what is happening in education guides everything we do. That vision and the organization are in good hands with Peggy Brookins.”
Thorpe led the National Board through a series of changes—from making the certification process more accessible for teachers to partnering with states and districts to put more teachers on a path to Board certification. He championed the integration of ATLAS, an online library of video cases featuring Board-certified teachers, into teacher preparation programs.
A signature effort for Thorpe was the launch of the annual Teaching & Learning conference in 2014, which drew thousands of teachers and others in education and policy to Washington. T&L offered speakers with contrasting views, including Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, AFT President Randi Weingarten, NEA President Lily Eskelsen García, education expert Linda Darling-Hammond, Martin Luther King III, historian James McPherson, documentarian Ken Burns, musician Bobby McFerrin, astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison and Bill Gates, among others.
Thorpe began his career as a teaching fellow at Phillips Academy Andover in Massachusetts, where he was an assistant to headmaster Ted Sizer, whose views on education reform he credited with shaping his own vision. He later served as dean of faculty and chief academic officer at the independent Kingswood-Oxford School in West Hartford, Conn. Thorpe held senior leadership roles at the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Rhode Island Foundation and the Wallace Foundation. As vice president for education at WNET in New York City, he spearheaded the Celebration of Teaching & Learning conference. He served on the boards of Phi Delta Kappa International, Longview Foundation and Horizons National.
A graduate of public schools in Carlisle, Pa., Thorpe earned his undergraduate degree in classics from Harvard, and went on to get his master’s and doctorate degrees at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He is survived by his wife, Margaret Honey, and daughter, Katherine Kerr. A memorial website has been posted here http://ronaldthorpememorial.blogspot.com/.