Dwight W. Allen, Longtime Education Professor and Champion of Educational Reform, Dies at 90
October 21, 2021
Dwight W. Allen, an internationally renowned advocate for educational reform who served as a professor in Old Dominion University's Darden College of Education and Professional Studies for 30 years, died on Oct. 16. He was 90.
Allen, who served as Professor and Eminent Scholar of Educational Reform, came to ODU in 1978 and retired in 2008. He received the Outstanding Faculty Award by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia in 2001.
He was the principal investigator for a $1.3 million grant to improve the technology training of teachers - ACTTNOW (Aligning Credentialing with Teacher Training Now). He was also the founding coordinator of NewPAGE, the University's environmental education class, required for more than 2,000 freshmen for four years.
"Dr. Allen was a teacher, scholar, leader and mentor," said Tammi Dice, interim dean of the Darden College. "He contributed to countless students' professional development and left a lasting legacy at several institutions, including Old Dominion University."
Allen served as professor and director of teacher education of the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University, his alma mater, and dean of the College of Education at the University of Massachusetts Amherst before coming to ODU. In 1963, he developed microteaching, which is designed to enhance teaching via open collegial discussion about educators' performance. This teacher training practicum is still used today. At UMass, he allowed students to help create their own curriculum, abolished the traditional grading system, recruited nontraditional students and students of color to the doctoral program and made Ph.D. candidates voting members of the faculty.
UMass honored him in 2001 by creating the Dwight W. Allen Professorship of Educational Policy and Reform, the first endowed distinguished professorship in the School of Education.
He took on positions that allowed him to champion education reform internationally. He served for more than 10 years as the international technical advisor for the United Nations Development Program in China as well as a consultant to the Department of Defense Dependent Schools in Germany. He also served as a consultant for schools and universities in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, India, South Africa, Israel, Uganda, Malawi and Greece.
He wrote nine books about educational reform, including "American School: The 100 Billion Dollar Challenge," which he co-authored with one of his doctoral students at UMass - Bill Cosby.
Jack Canfield, author of the "Chicken Soup" series of books, was another of Allen's students.
"He was an iconoclast," said Jennifer Kidd, master lecturer of teaching and learning at the Darden College and a former student of Allen's. "Dwight could envision a future for his students that they could not see for themselves."
He often did that by getting students out of their comfort zones.
"He consistently gave us roles that were beyond our scope of expertise," Kidd said. "As a master's student I was asked to teach other master's students. As a doc student, I was asked to author and manage a $1.4 million grant. People ask, how am I so lucky with grants? I learned to walk in enormous shoes. I realized that stumbling is part of the process, and that if you don't ask, the answer is always no. Dwight showed me there are many ways to make the shoe fit."
Eddie Hill, assistant professor of human movement sciences and director of undergraduate research, recalled that he became a mentee of Allen's after enrolling in one of his large lecture classes in 1992.
"During the second week of class, he invited every student in the class to his house for waffles!" Hill said. "I couldn't believe it! I showed up, along with many other students. I was so moved by his willingness to invite 300 undergraduates to his house for breakfast."
Hill said over the years he relied on Allen for advice about teaching strategies, recommendations on working with parents and innovative teaching methods.
"I can honestly say that I would not have continued to pursue graduate studies, and now work at ODU, if it weren't for Dr. Dwight Allen," he said.
A memorial service will be held on Nov. 14 at noon EST that can be viewed at this link. The program will consist of a short selection of prayers and readings followed by a few invited remembrances.
"He was unreasonable; there's no doubt about it," Kidd said. "But his refusal to be reasonable provided incredible opportunities for me and hundreds of others like me. Here's to Dwight Allen, the unreasonable: Instead of resting in peace, I hope you wreak some havoc in heaven!"