In Honor of Dr. Robert (Bob) Chilton Calfee (1933-2014)

Written by Marcus Croom


Robert (Bob) Chilton Calfee, cognitive psychologist and key developer of the popular LeapPad tablet for children (Meyers, 2014), died peacefully on October 24, 2014 at age 81 in his Stanford, CA home. Calfee’s remarkable career included over forty years on the faculty of Stanford University (1969-2011), election to the Palo Alto Board of Education (1983-1987), chairing the Educational Advisory Board of LeapFrog Enterprises, Inc. (1995-2006), membership on the Educational Advisory Committee of Smarty Ants, Inc., a deanship at University of California-Riverside (1998-2003), and service as a Faculty Fellow at Stanford’s Center for Teaching and Learning (2011-2014).

Dr. Calfee is best described as a practicing scholar. His voluminous publications, more than 300 articles, several books and educational programs, are eclipsed only by his mentorship and educative practice (Calfee & Chambliss, 2003; Calfee & Valencia, 1991). Dr. Calfee investigated a range of research topics throughout his career and his scholarship leaves an indelible mark on classroom learning and literacy. Two research projects illustrate the breadth of Calfee’s practice, READ-Plus (Calfee & Patrick, 1995) and the Inquiring School Model (Calfee, 1992; based on Schaefer, 1967), and each inform literacy instruction. Dr. Calfee’s instructional research continues to inform national policies in literacy development (Calfee, 2014; Calfee, Wilson, Flannery, & Kapinus, 2014).

While some literacy scholars have critiqued Calfee’s definition of critical literacy (Daniell, 1996), which he defined as “the literate use of language to problem solve and communicate” (Calfee, 1994, p. 19), his approach to critical literacy remains influential in the field of literacy research (Graves, Juel & Graves, 2006; Guthrie, Meter, McCann, Wigfield, Bennett, Poundstone, Rice, Faibisch, Hunt & Mitchell, 1996).

Like most educational psychologists, Dr. Calfee published in a wide range of basic and applied research outlets. His outstanding work led to his appointment to Editor-in-Chief of the field’s flagship journal, Journal of Educational Psychology, and he led the field through important methodological transformations as scholars broadened their range of research designs and data sources. Dr. Calfee was also instrumental in helping the field of literacy gain prominence in education. Indicative of Dr. Calfee’s continuing influence in the field, his early publications in Reading Research Quarterly, now regarded as the leading journal of literacy research, as well as sustained leadership on that editorial board, from 1995 until just weeks before he passed away in 2014, have informed the scholarship of many who are still active in the field (Calfee & Piontkowski, 1981; Drum, Calfee & Cook, 1981).

Although it may not be widely known, Bob was also a trustee for Hidden Valley Music Seminars in Carmel Valley, CA. Founder Peter Meckel (2014) writes, Bob’s “deep caring for the arts [sic] and the young talents who give life, purpose, and beauty to those arts [sic] was an inspiration to all of us who work here.” This is but a sample of the many ways in which Bob Calfee leaves a legacy of public service, dedicated research, expert practice, and rich relationship with family and friends.



Barchers, S. (n.d.). Lasting memories: Robert Chilton Calfee’s memorial. Retrieved from

Calfee, R. C. (1992). The Inquiring School: Literacy for the year 2000. In C. Collins & J. N. Mangieri (Eds.), Teaching thinking: An agenda for the twenty-first century. (pp. 147-166) Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Calfee, R. C., (1994). Critical literacy: Reading and writing for a new millennium. In N. J. Ellsworth, C. N. Hedley & A. N. Baratta (Eds.), Literacy: A redefinition, (pp. 19-38). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Calfee, R. C. (2014). Introduction: Knowledge, evidence, and faith: How the federal government used science to take over public schools. In K. S. Goodman, R. C. Calfee, & Y. M. Goodman (Eds.), Whose knowledge counts in government literacy policies? Why expertise matters (pp. 1-17). New York: Routledge.

Calfee, R. C., & Chambliss, M. J. (2003). The design of empirical research. In J. Flood, D. Lapp, J. R. Squire & J. M. Jensen, (Eds.), Handbook of research on teaching the English language arts, (pp. 159-175). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Calfee, R. C., & Patrick, C. (1995) Teach our children well. Stanford, CA: The Portable Stanford Series, Stanford Alumni Association.

Calfee, R. C., & Piontkowski, D. C. (1981). The reading diary: Acquisition of decoding. Reading Research Quarterly, 16, 346-373.

Calfee, R. C., & Valencia, R. R. (1991). APA guide to preparing manuscripts for journal publication. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Calfee, R. C., Wilson, K., Flannery, B., & Kapinus, B. (2014). Formative assessment for the Common Core literacy standards. Teachers College Record, 116, 1-32.

Daniell, B. (1996). [Review of the book Literacy: A redefinition, edited by N. J. Ellsworth, C. N. Hedley & A. N. Baratta]. Technical Communication Quarterly, 5, 193-195. doi: 10.1207/s15427625tcq0502_7

Delson, S. (1984). Prof may face legal action. The Stanford Daily, 185, 1 & 14. Retrieved from

Drum, P. A., Calfee, R. C., & Cook, L. K. (1981). The effects of surface structure variables on performance in reading comprehension tests. Reading Research Quarterly, 16, 486-514.

Graves, M. F., Juel, C., & Graves, B. B. (2006). Teaching reading in the 21st century. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Guthrie, J. T., Meter, P.V., McCann, A. D., Wigfield, A., Bennett, L., Poundstone, C. C., Rice, M. E., Faibisch, F. M., Hunt, B. & Mitchell, A. M. (1996). Growth of literacy engagement: Changes in motivations and strategies during concept-oriented reading instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 31, 306-332.

Meckel, P. T. (2014, November 12). Dr. Robert Calfee: The loss of a friend & trustee. Retrieved from

Meyers, A. (2014, November 11). Robert Calfee, reading education scholar, dies at 81. Retrieved from

Palo Alto Historical Association Photograph Collection (n.d.). Retrieved from,4922

Schaefer, R. J. (1967). The school as a center of inquiry. New York: Harper and Row.

Stanford Teaching Commons (n.d.). Retrieved from