Areas of Expertise
- Children, Youth and Families
- Race & Ethnicity
- Early Childhood Education
- Higher Education
David L. Kirp, James D. Marver Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, is a former newspaper editor and policy consultant as well as an academic. His interests range widely across policy and politics. In his seventeen books and scores of articles in both the popular press and scholarly journals he has tackled some of America’s biggest social problems, including affordable housing, access to health, gender discrimination and AIDS. His main focus has been on education and children’s policy, from cradle to college and career.
His latest book, Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for American Education, hailed by Publishers Weekly, has garnered endorsements across the political spectrum. It chronicles how a poor urban school district (Union City, New Jersey, four miles and a light year from Times Square) has transported Latino immigrant children, many of them undocumented, into the education mainstream: 90 percent of those youngsters are graduating from high school and 75 percent are going to college. It takes the reader from a third grade classroom to the administrative headquarters, where the crucial if undramatic system-building gets done, and the potent politics of the community. The book also shows how the lessons from this school district can be applied nationwide. As with his other writing, Improbable Scholars is aimed at a broad audience as well as policy-makers and practitioners. In recent months, he has written for the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, American Prospect, The Nation, Slate, Daily Beast, San Francisco Chronicle, Huffington Post and New York Daily News and lectured at the National Science Foundation, Center for American Progress, National Institute for Early Education Research, American Federation of Teachers, Economic Policy Institute, Teachers College-Columbia, New School University, University of Virginia, Boston College and NYU.
His work with government agencies and foundations, as well as his teaching and his community activism, address these issues at ground level. Between the 2008 election and the Inauguration, he served on President Obama’s Transition Team. Kids First: Five Big Ideas for Transforming the Lives of Children (Public Affairs 2011) makes a powerful argument for building systems of support that reach from cradle to college and career. Excerpts and opinion pieces appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The American Prospect and The Nation. That book won the National School Board Journal award for the best education book of 2011.
From the beginning of his career, as a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and founding director of the Harvard Center for Law and Education, children’s issues have been David Kirp’s main focus. The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-First Politics (Harvard 2007) emerged from his spending several years crisscrossing the country, crouching in prekindergarten classrooms and nurseries across the country and talking with experts in the field. Excerpts appeared in leading newspapers and magazines including the New York Times Sunday Magazine and the Chicago Tribune Sunday Magazine; opinion pieces ran in the Los Angeles Times and the San Francisco Chronicle. It was chosen as a San Francisco Chronicle 2007 “best book” and received the Association of American Publishers Award for Excellence. His account of the market-oriented drift of higher education, Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education (Harvard 2004), received the Council for Advancement and Support of Higher Education’s research award and has been translated into numerous languages.
Long committed to developing a new generation of public leaders, he is a recipient of Berkeley’s Distinguished Teaching Award. He twice received the Gustavus Meyers Human Rights Award, for Learning by Heart: AIDS and America’s Communities and Our Town: Race, Housing and the Soul of Suburbia. He frequently consults with nonprofits and government agencies at the federal, state and local levels. He has also lectured at universities across the country and around the globe, among them Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, NYU, Princeton, Chicago, UC-San Diego, Rutgers, UCLA, New School, Glasgow, Ben Gurion, Wellington, Melbourne, Trento, Oslo, Bergen, ITAM (Mexico), Vigo (Spain) and McGill, and has been a visiting scholar at the Federal Reserve.
David Kirp is a graduate of Amherst College—a former trustee of his alma mater—and Harvard Law School. He serves as a member of the board of Friends of the Children and on the international advisory committee of Escuela Nueva, a Colombia-based nonprofit that in the past quarter-century has brought effective education to nearly 10 million students across Latin America. At the Goldman School of Public Policy at Berkeley, he launched the New Community Fund, to promote greater student diversity, an education and youth policy scholarship and an eponymously-named scholarship.
Recent Speeches in 2013
"Building a System of Supports for Parents," Positive Parenting Program International Conference
"How to Fix Our Schools," Rutgers University (sponsored by Education Law Center and New Jersey Advocates for Children)
“Improbable Scholars and Kids First,” Day-long colloquium, Industrial Areas Foundation
"New Directions In Education Reform, Teachers College, Columbia University
"Uncommon Scholars," New School Center for Urban Affairs
"Technology and Education Reform," National Science Foundation
"Early Education and Later Success: Union City and Beyond," Center for American Progress (cosponsored by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Bellwether Partners)
“Fables to Live By: The Tortoise, the Hare, and Educational Reform,” Boston College
“Back to Basics in Education Policy,” University of Virginia
“The Direction of Education Reform” (with Pedro Noguera), NYU
“Educating the Next Generation,” Google Forum
“From First to Worst—and Back Again? Fixing Norfolk’s Public Schools,” Norfolk Leadership Council and Old Dominion University
“From OK to Good to Great: San Francisco Public School System,” San Francisco Unified School District “Visioning” Conference
Download a PDF (163KB)
GSPP Working Paper: GSPP10-003 (April 2010)
African-American boys have long fared worse in school. This paper documents this achievement gap, then assesses a number of evidence-based strategies that hold promise of bridging that gap. Those strategies range from high-quality early education and skill-building reading programs to mentoring initiatives and interventions that address stereotype vulnerability. Much of the existing research has not isolated the effects on black males, and the paper offers new data that demonstrates those impacts. A sequence of interventions, which begin before kindergarten and continue during college, is recommended.
by David L. Kirp. 2013, Oxford University Press.
No school district can be all charismatic leaders and super-teachers. It can't start from scratch, and it can't fire all its teachers and principals when students do poorly. Great charter schools can only serve a tiny minority of students. Whether we like it or not, most of our youngsters will continue to be educated in mainstream public schools.
The good news, as David L. Kirp reveals in Improbable Scholars, is that there's a sensible way to rebuild public education and close the achievement gap for all students. Indeed, this is precisely what's happening in a most unlikely place: Union City, New Jersey, a poor, crowded Latino community just across the Hudson from Manhattan. The school district--once one of the worst in the state--has ignored trendy reforms in favor of proven game-changers like quality early education, a word-soaked curriculum, and hands-on help for teachers. When beneficial new strategies have emerged, like using sophisticated data-crunching to generate pinpoint assessments to help individual students, they have been folded into the mix.
The results demand that we take notice--from third grade through high school, Union City scores on the high-stakes state tests approximate the statewide average. In other words, these inner-city kids are achieving just as much as their suburban cousins in reading, writing, and math. What's even more impressive, nearly ninety percent of high school students are earning their diplomas and sixty percent of them are going to college. Top students are winning national science awards and full rides at Ivy League universities. These schools are not just good places for poor kids. They are good places for kids, period.
Improbable Scholars offers a playbook--not a prayer book--for reform that will dramatically change our approach to reviving public education.
Kirp, David L. Kids First: Five Big Ideas for Transforming Children's Lives and America's Future. New York: PublicAffairs, 2011.
Kirp, David L. The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-first Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007.
Kirp, David L. Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2003.
Kirp, David L. Almost Home: America's Love-hate Relationship with Community. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2000.
Kirp, David. Education Policy and the Law. 4th ed. N.p.: Thomson, 2001.
Articles and Op-Eds
Slate, June 19, 2013
The Nation, May 8, 2013
Slate, May 6, 2013
The Nation, May 1, 2013
Los Angeles Tiimes, April 7, 2013
Washington Post, April 4, 2013
San Francisco Chronicle, March 15, 2013
CNN's Schools of Thought Blog, February 21, 2013
New York Times, February 9, 2013
San Francisco Chronicle, December 17, 2012
San Francisco Chronicle, October 19, 2012
Inside Higher Ed, December 3, 2012
The Nation, February 10, 2011
The Nation, December 8, 2010
The Nation, May 27, 2010
The Nation, July 12, 2007
The Nation, November 2, 2005
San Francisco Chronicle, November 1, 2004
EdSource, June 3, 2013
Washington Post, May 14, 2013
KQED Forum with Michael Krasny, May 13, 2013
Cap Times, May 9, 2013
NJ Today, April 3, 2013
Bloomberg's TV, March 1, 2013
CNN, March 1, 2013
September 1, 2011
March 8, 2011
SF Chronicle, November 1, 2008
October 22, 2008
Investing in Early Childhood Education: How you can make a difference Keynote Presentation: 2008 Community Early Education Summit
January 1, 2008
October 22, 2008
June 14, 2007
New York Times, January 16, 2005
October 5, 2004
Times Higher Education, April 9, 2004
New York Times, October 19, 2013
Tech Mania Goes to College: Are MOOCs—massive open online courses—the utopia of affordable higher education, or just the latest fad?
The Nation, September 4, 2013
The School Superintendents Association, June 1, 2013
Slate, September 4, 2013