In Memory of Arthur N. Applebee

It is with great sadness that the School of Education notes the passing of Dr. Arthur N. Applebee.

University at Albany Distinguished Professor Arthur N. Applebee, internationally renowned for his seminal scholarship in the fields of literacy and language learning, died suddenly on September 20, 2015, following a brief illness. He was 69.

Until his retirement in August 2015, Dr. Applebee was a SUNY Distinguished Professor in UAlbany’s School of Education, Chair of the School’s Department of Educational Theory & Practice, and Director of the Center on English Learning & Achievement. He joined the School of Education in 1987, as part of the SUNY-wide Graduate Research Initiative, Governor Mario Cuomo’s investment to bring some of the most esteemed and promising scholars in the nation to the State University of New York campuses.

With degrees from Yale, Harvard, and the University of London, Applebee’s work focused on how children and adults learn the many specialized forms of language required for success in school, life, and work. His research reframed the ways in which both scholars and practitioners think about critical issues in language learning by interconnecting reading, writing, speaking, thinking, and learning across disciplines. Since the early 1970s, he worked as an advisor to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, helping to design, implement, interpret, and report a continuing series of evaluations of the educational attainment of U.S. students.

His first book Tradition and Reform in the Teaching of English (1974) became a classic in its field, and the many subsequent books, National Assessment monographs, and reports, articles, and book chapters have been equally influential in the United States and across the world. The Child’s Concept of Story (University of Chicago, 1978); Writing in the Secondary School (NCTE, 1981); How Writing Shapes Thinking (with J. Langer, NCTE, 1987); Literature in the Secondary School (NCTE, 1993); and Curriculum as Conversation (University of Chicago, 1996) have been particularly influential on scholarship in his field. His most recent book (with J. Langer) was Writing Instruction that Works: Proven Methods for Middle and High School Classrooms (Teachers College Press, 2013).

Applebee advised at international, national, state, and local levels on effective approaches to language and literacy education, and was a member of the Validation Committee for the Common Core State Standards. Applebee was editor of Research in the Teaching of English (the premier scholarly journal in his field) for 8 years and served on the editorial board or as a reviewer for another 18 national and international scholarly journals. He was a past president of the National Conference on Research in Language and Literacy and was recognized for the cumulative contribution of his work by election to the International Reading Hall of Fame, by the David H. Russell Award for Distinguished Research in the Teaching of English, and by his appointment as a Fellow of the American Educational Research Association. He was also a Fellow of the Rockefeller Foundation Study Center in Bellagio, Italy, and he received the SUNY Chancellor’s award for Research Excellence.

Applebee wrote 25 books and monographs, over 100 journal articles and other publications, and is the most frequently cited author in the research handbooks in English language arts. He was lead author of a series of English literature textbooks for grades 6-12 that have been widely adopted by school districts across the United States from 1992 to present. Applebee’s research received external funding from a variety of sources since 1979, for a cumulative career total of over $27 million.

Applebee shared his life’s work with his wife and research partner, Judith Langer; the pair were the first husband and wife to hold the position of distinguished professor, the highest rank in the State University of New York system. He is survived by Langer, two stepsons, four step-granddaughters, and four brothers. He was a much respected and beloved professor, colleague, collaborator, advisor, mentor, and friend for scholars and educators on the University at Albany campus and across the nation.