Administrative History

Dr. James Edward Allen, Jr. was born April 25, 1911 in Elkins, West Virginia. His father, Dr. James Edward Allen, Sr., was president of Davis and Elkins College, and his mother, Susan H. Garrott, was the college's librarian. James Allen, Jr. attended local elementary and secondary schools, and graduated from Davis and Elkins College in 1932. In 1933, Allen joined the West Virginia State Education Department, eventually becoming Chief of the Division of State Aid and Statistics. In 1938, Allen married Florence Pell Miller, with whom he would have two children.

In 1939, Allen left the West Virginia State Education Department for Princeton University, where he became a research associate with the Princeton Surveys, assisting with studies in educational finance for the State of New Jersey, and pursuing part-time graduate studies. From 1941 to 1944, he studied education administration at Harvard University, receiving his Ph.D. in 1944. After a brief stint as a civilian operations analyst for the United States Air Force, Allen joined the faculty of Syracuse University in 1945 as an Assistant Professor of Education and Director of the Bureau of School Services. In 1947, Allen left Syracuse for the New York State Education Department. He first served as Executive Assistant to Commissioner of Education Frances Spaulding. Upon Spaulding's death in 1950, he became Deputy Commissioner of Education under Commissioner Lewis Wilson. In 1955, Allen was appointed by the Board of Regents as New York State Commissioner of Education and President of the University of the State of New York. At the age of forty-four, he was the youngest person ever to have been appointed to the post.

As Commissioner of Education, Dr. James Allen presided over a vast expansion of the New York State Education Department, in terms of both bureaucratic size and authority. Taking advantage of vast increases in funding from both the state and federal governments, Allen oversaw the creation and expansion of many programs to address the growing need and demand for educational services in the State of New York. In elementary and secondary education, Allen oversaw the creation of the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services, which allowed for smaller, rural school districts to partner for the provision of expanded educational programs. Allen's administration used financial aid as an inducement for smaller school districts to consolidate, creating a more centralized governing structure for state education. In addition, he responded to the increasing number of poor rural and immigrant students in the New York City school system and elsewhere in the state by fostering new programs in urban education and bilingual education. In the realm of higher education, Allen established the Office of Administrative Services in Higher Education, which assisted colleges and universities in streamlining their operation and management; created Scholar Incentive Awards and College Proficiency exams to expand higher education services to poorer and non-traditional students; and supported the Bundy Commission's findings in 1968 in favor of providing state aid to non-public higher education institutions.

Building upon his background in educational research, Allen was a strong proponent of the creation and use of data systems, research, and evaluation to improve the education process. As a member of President Lyndon Johnson's 1964 Task Force on Education, he advocated for federal funding for innovative education programs and for state education departments, which were implemented in Titles III and V of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Allen was an early proponent of national student assessments, and worked with organizations such as the National Association of State Boards of Education and the Council of Chief State School Officers to promote multi-state data systems and evaluation programs, such as the Committee on Educational Data Systems of CCSSO. Within NYSED, Allen established the Bureau of Education Finance Research, which studied school finance and local aid formulas, and created the Division of Electronic Data Processing. In addition, Allen implemented funding for experimental programs in local school districts, such as team teaching and ungraded primary schools.

Allen was an early proponent of the need for "de facto" school desegregation. In 1957, he established the Division of Intercultural Relations within the State Education Department, the first such office in any U.S. state to deal explicitly with the issue of school integration. In 1960, Allen worked with the Board of Regents on a policy statement affirming the need to desegregate schools and to provide for equal education for all, a statement that was reaffirmed in 1968. In June 1962, he appointed an Advisory Committee on Human Relations and Community Tensions to advise the State Education Department and local schools on issues of racial imbalance and local control of schools. Allen ordered various school districts to desegregate and often met resistance. Most notably, the Malverne school district of Nassau County filed and won a lawsuit against the State Education Department challenging an integration order, but the State Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, upholding the power of the commissioner to order desegregation.

Allen's last year as Commissioner was dominated by the controversy surrounding the Ocean Hill-Brownsville school district in New York City. The situation stemmed from a joint-project by the New York City Board of Education and the Ford Foundation to set up three community-controlled school districts within New York City, among them Ocean Hill-Brownsville, with locally-elected school boards holding much of the decision-making power. In May of 1968, the elected school board of Ocean Hill-Brownsville school district dismissed nineteen teachers and administrators due to perceived lack of support for the decentralization effort. The New York United Federation of Teachers responded by calling a strike in September, claiming that the school board had violated the teachers' rights to due process. The resulting conflict, which at times turned violent, pitted the unionized teachers against community groups supportive of decentralization. Allen worked constantly to act as a mediator between the two opposing groups, postponing his acceptance of the position of U.S. Commissioner of Education to work on the conflict. Eventually, Allen's mediation led to a compromise position, which maintained and broadened the use of locally-controlled school districts, while preserving teachers' job security and the right of teachers to bargain collectively across city school districts. In April of 1969, the State Legislature passed a school desegregation law, incorporating much of Allen's proposed compromise.

Allen's work as Commissioner of Education ended in February of 1969, when he was chosen by President Richard Nixon to be the Assistant Secretary for Education in the United State Department of Health, Education and Welfare and U.S. Commissioner of Education. During his short tenure, Allen advocated the reorganization of the Office of Education to achieve greater control over programs, proposed the creation of the National Institute of Education, and spearheaded the Right to Read program to combat illiteracy. However, significant disagreements emerged between Allen and the Nixon administration over school desegregation and the role of the federal government in education. Allen was dismissed from his post in May of 1970. In October of that year, Allen joined the faculty of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University and remained there until his untimely death on October 18, 1971.