Education as a subject of study began in 1851 with the appointment of Samuel Stillman Greene to the new chair of Didactics which had been created as part of President Wayland’s New System and described in the Laws of 1850-51:
“The course in Didactics is designed at present especially for the benefit of teachers of common schools. There will be held two terms a year in this department of at least two months each. It shall be the duty of the professor of Didactics to review with the class the studies taught in common school, and then to explain the manner of communicating knowledge to others.”In 1851 Greene also became superintendent of schools in Providence. In 1853-54 the course was discontinued and did not reappear until 1893 when Walter B. Jacobs became instructor in pedagogy. In 1901 his title was changed to professor of the theory and practice of education. He was assisted by Charles E. Dennis, instructor in pedagogy, from 1897 to 1901. The Brown University Teachers Association was established in 1903 to provide an opportunity for teachers among the Brown alumni and other teachers to meet annually at the University.
In 1912 Stephen S. Colvin 1891, who had been teaching at the University of Illinois, was appointed to the newly created chair of Educational Psychology. In the same year Brown entered into cooperation with the State Board of Education which had made an annual appropriation of $5,000 for the training of college graduates to fill the positions of high school teachers, principals, and superintendents in the state. At the October 1916 meeting of the Corporation a School of Education was established to promote graduate study by teachers and cooperation between Brown and the Rhode Island State Normal School and other institutions and to provide undergraduate work leading to a Bachelor of Education degree after two years of college work. Colvin was director of the School of Education from 1918 to 1923, Jacobs from 1923 to 1927, and C. Emanuel Ekstrom, who had joined the department in 1919, from 1927 until 1931. In 1929 the Board of Fellows voted to discontinue the Bachelor of Education degree, but allowed those already enrolled to receive the degree. On hundred and eighteen Bachelor of Education degrees were awarded between 1920 to 1934, and some students continued their study and received the Bachelor of Philosophy degree. Andrew H. MacPhail, professor of educational psychology since 1921, became director of educational measurement in 1934. Frances E. Dunn became director in 1957.
In 1957, with a grant from the Fund for the Advancement of Education, Brown was able to institute a new program leading to the degree of Master of Arts in Teaching. The intentions of the program were to provide high school teachers with graduate training to round out their cultural background, to increase the supply of teachers by helping liberal arts graduates to train in the techniques of teaching, and to bring about better understanding between colleges and school officials through conferences and workshops. The Graduate Summer School for Teachers, which began the same year, held summer classes for academically qualified high school and junior high school students under the sponsorship of the National Science Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation. In 1958 a National Science Foundation grant enabled the University to establish summer institutes for teachers under the direction of Professor Elmer R. Smith. In 1959 the Ford Foundation awarded Brown a grant of $1,047,000 to begin the program which was called The Brown Plan for Teacher Education, also under the direction of Smith. The goals of the program were teacher recruitment and preparation, professional services to schools, and helping the general public to resolve educational problems. A feature of the plan was the employment of interns from the Master of Arts in Teaching program to take the place of veteran teachers who would spend a year at Brown in further study in their fields. One of the first projects of the Plan was a curriculum revision program for the public school system of Warren, Rhode Island in 1959-60. Another was a joint project with the Bridgewater, Massachusetts public schools relating to school organization, school relationships, the organization of the elementary program, and guidance and testing services. New additions to the faculty of the department were Roberta Kellogg in 1957, Reginald Archambault in 1965, and Herman Eschenbacher in 1967.
Theodore R. Sizer, former dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, came to Brown as chairman of the department in 1984, bringing with him a new emphasis on secondary education. His book, Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School, led to the Brown-based Coalition of Essential Schools, a school and university partnership, which by 1990 had grown to include 65 private and public schools, in which innovations in teaching methods have been made possible by grants from thirty private and corporate foundations. The Institute for Secondary Education was formed in 1985 with the goals of linking Brown to neighboring schools, providing programs for secondary school teachers, creating a forum for teachers and school administrators, and promoting the Coalition of Essential Schools. The Center for the Advancement of College Teaching, with Harriet Sheridan as director, was established in 1987 to prepare graduate students as teaching assistants and teaching fellows for professional careers.
The department was housed in Sharpe House from 1960 until the fall of 1975, when it moved into the former Alumni House at 159 George Street, which was renamed Meiklejohn House in honor of Dean Alexander Meiklejohn 1893. The department moved again in 1991 to the former Barus Lab. In addition to a concentration in educational studies and the Master of Arts in Teaching Program, the department offers an Elementary Education Program in cooperation with Wheaton College, and an Undergraduate Teacher Education program in preparation for public secondary school teaching, specifically by attendance at the Brown Summer High School between the undergraduate’s junior and senior years. Among the chairmen of the department have been Claus Emanuel Ekstrom, Gilbert E. Case, Elmer R. Smith, Reginald D. Archambault, Theodore R. Sizer, and William Damon.