Thomas A. Romberg, professor emeritus and internationally recognized leader in mathematics education, dies

September 18, 2023

Thomas A. Romberg, a professor emeritus with the UW–Madison School of Education, passed away on Sunday, Sept. 3, 2023, in Fitchburg, Wisconsin. He was 90 years old.

Thomas A. Romberg, professor emeritus and internationally recognized leader in mathematics education, dies
Thomas A. Romberg

Romberg joined the UW–Madison faculty in 1966, and retired in 2005. Through his almost 40 years on the faculty he became an internationally recognized leader in mathematics education.

“Professor Romberg was a wonderful colleague, a thoughtful and effective teacher, and a brilliant researcher whose work made a powerful impact — on our campus, nationally, and internationally,” said School of Education Dean Diana Hess. “He was primarily concerned with what happened in mathematics classes — how teachers taught and what students learned, and the ways in which policy could advance both. The field of mathematics education is better and stronger because of his decades of leadership.”

Romberg’s research focused on young children’s learning of initial mathematical concepts, methods of evaluating students and programs, and integrating research on teaching, curriculum, and student thinking. Through his lifetime he published 30 books and over 300 research papers.

As a professional leader in mathematics education he chaired the Commission on Standards for School Mathematics for the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics from 1986 to 1985. From 1987 to 2002 he was director of the National Center for Research in Mathematical Sciences Education for the U.S. Department of Education, where he served as an adviser to three U.S. Presidents and their Secretaries of Education. He also represented the U.S. on several international commissions.

“His work on standards in mathematics education set the stage for some of the most robust national and international debates about the role of national standards in education and on their strengths and limits,” said UW–Madison Professor Emeritus Michael Apple, the former John Bascom Professor of Curriculum and Instruction and Educational Policy Studies in the School of Education. “Those of us who participated in these debates owe Tom a debt of gratitude for his openness to different opinions and his willingness to listen carefully, even when he disagreed.”

Romberg was also a former director of the National Center for Improving Student Learning and Achievement in Mathematics and Science, housed in the School of Education’s Wisconsin Center for Education Research, from 1996 to 1999.

While on the faculty at UW–Madison Romberg received a Faculty Distinguished Achievement Award, and also was named the Bascom Professor of Education. “Tom was a wonderful colleague,” said Robert Tabachnick, a professor emeritus in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “His colleagues and students appreciated his warm heart and the support and encouragement he was quick to offer his co-workers and his students, as well as his dry sense of humor.”

Romberg received numerous other awards and fellowships, including a Lifetime Achievement Medal from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics for his contributions to mathematics and education.

To honor his life and legacy, Romberg’s family has requested that memorials be made to the Thomas A. Romberg Fellowship Fund through this link.