Tonight: Join us to celebrate Education Week’s 2021 Leaders To Learn From. Register to attend the gala.

Ex-U.S. Commissioner Keppel Dies

February 28, 1990 2 min read

Francis Keppel, the U.S. Commissioner of Education during the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations, who helped spearhead passage of the landmark Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, died Feb. 19 of cancer at Harvard University’s Stillman Infirmary. He was 73.

Mr. Keppel, who at the time of his death was a senior lecturer at the Harvard graduate school of education, also served as dean of the school for 14 years and helped develop its international reputation for scholarly excellence.

More recently, he helped shape education policy as director of education programs for the Aspen Institute of Humanistic Studies, and as an adviser to libraries, art centers, the World Bank, and developing nations.

During his tenure as commissioner from 1962 to 1965, and as assistant U.S. Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare for Education from 1965 to 1966, Mr. Keppel was known as an advocate of federal aid to educationally disadvantaged children.

He also helped enforce the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in education programs and was instrumental in the creation of the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

“Frank helped lead the country toward a more effective definition of what constitutes equality of educational opportunity,” said Harold Howe 2nd, senior lecturer at Harvard’s education school and another former U.S. Commissioner of Education. “We still have work to do under that heading, but the progress of the last 25 years is in no small part attributable to Frank Keppel.”

The son of a leading educator, Frederick P. Keppel, who was dean of Columbia College and president of the Carnegie Corporation, Francis Keppel earned a bachelor’s degree at Harvard and studied sculpture for a year in Rome before returning to his alma mater as assistant dean of Harvard College.

In 1948, then-President James B. Conant of Harvard appointed Mr. Keppel, then 32, dean of the education school, where he served until 1962. As dean, Mr. Keppel developed experimental programs in team teaching, educational television, and curricular reform. He also promoted the Master of Arts in Teaching program, which provided liberal-arts graduates interested in teaching with a year of professional training and internship experience.

Derek Bok, president of Harvard, said Mr. Keppel “transformed the school of education from a neglected part of the university to one that drew educators from all parts of the world for leadership and innovative ideas."--rr

A version of this article appeared in the February 28, 1990 edition of Education Week as Ex-U.S. Commissioner Keppel Dies