Robert Calfee, Former Education School Dean, Dies at 81

Calfee, who served as dean from 1998 to 2003, was a reading education scholar

Robert Calfee headshot

Robert Calfee, former dean of the Graduate School of Education, died Oct. 24. Photo credit: Smart Ants, Inc.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. ( — Robert Chilton Calfee, former dean of the University of California, Riverside, Graduate School of Education, died Oct. 24 at his home in Stanford, CA. The cause of death was stomach cancer. He was 81.

Calfee, a professor emeritus of education at Stanford Graduate School of Education who played a leading role in development of the LeapPad tablet used by millions of children to learn to read, was an influential scholar who wrote extensively about pedagogy.

He was devoted to rigorous research on the practice of teaching and then seeing that his findings had a direct impact on children’s education. This commitment led him to pioneer new approaches to training classroom teachers, to work directly with schools and to help launch LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc., which was a leader in the educational entertainment market.

Calfee, who earned his doctorate in psychology at UCLA, became an education professor at Stanford in 1969. He remained on the faculty of the Graduate School of Education for the next three decades, leaving in 1998 to become dean at UC Riverside, a role he would fill until 2003.

Calfee is survived by his wife, Suzanne Barchers of Stanford, CA; three children: Adele (Calfee) Woodward of San Dimas, CA; Robert W. Calfee of Dublin, CA, and Elise Sachs of Boulder, CO; and four grandchildren. Calfee also has three surviving sisters: Sara (Calfee) Goodno of Pasadena, CA, Jean (Calfee) Knapp of Covina, CA, and Loretta Calfee, San Diego, CA. He is preceded in death by his brother James Lee Calfee; a son, Robert Allen Calfee; and his previous wife, Nel Little. His previous marriages ended in divorce.

A memorial service is planned Dec. 6 at 1 p.m. at the Valley Presbyterian Church, 945 Portola Road, Portola Valley, CA 94028, followed by a drop-in reception from 3:00-5:00 p.m. at the Barchers-Calfee residence.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations be made to a previously established student fellowship fund at UC-Riverside by visiting and entering “Calfee” in the search.

Andrew Myers, a writer and editor who frequently contributes to Stanford Graduate School of Education’s website and publications, contributed to this report.

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