School of Education News

Colleagues recall work of education research pioneer Klausmeier

June 03, 2014
by Paul Baker

Herbert J. Klausmeier, a UW-Madison professor emeritus of educational psychology who played the leading role in founding the Wisconsin Center for Education Research, passed away on May 20 at the age of 98.

After earning a Doctor of Education degree from Stanford University in 1949, Klausmeier started his academic career at the University of Northern Colorado in 1949 before arriving on the UW-Madison campus in 1952, where he would establish himself as a leader in research-based education improvement over the next three-plus decades.

KlausmeierAt UW-Madison, Klausmeier focused his research on classroom learning and taught undergraduate and graduate courses in educational psychology. He also was the advisor of graduate students, 35 of whom earned a Ph.D.

His early research focused on identifying differences in the physical, mental and other characteristics of children. Later research centered on learning concepts in mathematics and other subjects. This research led to his formulation of a seminal theory of concept learning and a closely related strategy for teaching concepts.

It was early in the 1960s when Klausmeier prepared a proposal that led to the establishment of the Wisconsin Center for Education Research (WCER). It began operating in September 1964, with a staff of eight UW faculty members, 19 graduate student research assistants, and a few clerical personnel. It was one of the first three university-based education research centers in the world and its initial mission was to improve elementary education, before later expanding to include secondary education. From those beginnings 50 years ago, WCER has gone on to establish itself as one of the largest and most productive university-based education research centers in the world. Today, WCER features annual expenditures of more than $55 million and employs nearly 500 people.

Klausmeier served as WCER’s co-director for research from 1964-68 and as director until 1972, when he retired to devote more time to non-administrative duties.

“When I was a scared, young assistant professor, Herb would take the time to let me know that my intervention studies were important,” says Robert Enright, a UW-Madison professor of educational psychology who has pioneered the study of forgiveness. “His encouragement meant the world to me.”

In 1968, Klausmeier led a successful effort through the U.S. Office of Education to provide funds for constructing a 13-story building to house WCER on the UW-Madison campus. The Educational Sciences building, located at 1025 W. Johnson St., opened in 1972 and contributed significantly to both the permanence of the Center at the university and to the continuation of the federal program of university-based education research centers. Klausmeier worked at UW-Madison until 1986.

“In 1972 I was hired as an assistant professor of educational psychology and was given a tour of the Educational Sciences building, which was still under construction at the time,” says UW-Madison Professor Emeritus Michael Subkoviak. “The person giving the tour mentioned that this was the ‘house that Klausmeier built’ because Herb had written the grant which secured federal funding to construct Educational Sciences. I was thus impressed with Herb from that very moment for the many significant things he accomplished during his life.”

Klausmeier and his WCER colleagues invented Individually Guided Education (IGE), an alternative to traditional schooling. It achieved good results in the late 1960s in terms of student achievement and teacher morale, and thereafter was implemented widely. In 1974-75 there were some 3,000 IGE schools in 37 states.

“I was involved in a project directed by Tom Romberg to evaluate the effectiveness of curriculum materials designed to fit with Individually Guided Education, Developing Mathematics Project (DMP) and the Wisconsin Reading Design (WRD),” says WCER Scientist Norman Webb. “These curricula materials were designed in modules or pieces that would allow a teacher to use them flexibly with students according to their needs. We collected data at the McFarland Elementary School that was designed as an open classroom space that was advanced by IGE. That school used all of the curricula designed for IGE and was considered the ideal of the model.”

Klausmeier reported his school improvement and research activities in 10 books, 33 chapters of edited books, and many journal articles.

Klausmeier is survived by his wife of 67 years, Iyla Johnson Klausmeier, a daughter, Connie Klausmeier Hutchinson and her husband, Marshall L. Hutchinson, and four grandchildren.

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