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David Kirp

Professor of the Graduate School, University of California at Berkeley, Emeritus Professor of Public Policy

David Kirp


David L. Kirp, is a policy consultant and former newspaper editor as well as an academic. 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. Throughout his career, his main focus has been on education and children’s policy, from cradle to college and career.  He was a member of the 2008 Presidential Transition Team, where he drafted a policy framework for early education.

His latest book, Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools, was named outstanding book of 2013 by the American Education Research Association. The book chronicles how an urban school district has brought poor Latino immigrant children, many of them undocumented, into the education mainstream. His previous book, Kids First: Five Big Ideas for Transforming the Lives of Children, makes a powerful argument for building systems of support that reach from cradle to college and career. It won the National School Board Journal award for the best education book of 2011. The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-First Politics analyzes why early education has emerged as a national priority. It 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 garnered the Council for Advancement and Support of Higher Education’s research award. He is a member of the National Academy of Education.

Much of David Kirp’s writing is aimed at a broad audience. His articles have appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, American Prospect, Nation, Slate, Daily Beast, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee and Huffington Post. In 2015 he was invited to be a contributing writer to the Opinion section of the New York Times. In recent years, he has addressed the American Association of School Administrators, the National Science Foundation, the Center for American Progress, the National Institute for Early Education Research, the American Federation of Teachers, the Cleveland City Club and the Economic Policy Institute. He frequently speaks on college campuses in the United States and abroad, including Harvard, Columbia, UCLA, Stanford, the University of Virginia, Boston College, NYU, Amherst, Glasgow, Ben Gurion, Wellington, Melbourne, Trento and Oslo.

Long committed to developing a new generation of public leaders 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. 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 educated millions of children in the developing world. Previously, he served on the boards of Experience Corps and the CORO Institute for Leadership. 

Follow him on Twitter at @DavidKirp.

Watch the video Defies Measurement, a public education documentary with David Kirp.

Curriculum Vitae

Download a PDF (163KB, updated 01-22-2013)

Areas of Expertise

  • Children, Youth and Families
  • Education
  • Race & Ethnicity
  • Law
  • Politics
  • Ethics
  • Early Childhood Education
  • Higher Education
  • Community

Last updated on 09/04/2018

Working Papers

  • Invisible Students Bridging the Widest Achievement Gap

    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.

    Download a PDF (141KB)

Selected Publications

  • Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System a Strategy for America’s Schools

    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.

  • Kids First: Five Big Ideas for Transforming Children’s Lives and America’s Future

    Kirp, David L. Kids First: Five Big Ideas for Transforming Children's Lives and America's Future. New York: PublicAffairs, 2011.

  • The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-first Politics

    Kirp, David L. The Sandbox Investment: The Preschool Movement and Kids-first Politics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2007.

  • Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education

    Kirp, David L. Shakespeare, Einstein, and the Bottom Line: The Marketing of Higher Education. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 2003.

  • Almost Home: America’s Love-Hate Relationship with Community

    Kirp, David L. Almost Home: America's Love-hate Relationship with Community. Princeton, NJ: Princeton UP, 2000.

  • Educational Policy and the Law

    Kirp, DavidEducation Policy and the Law. 4th ed. N.p.: Thomson, 2001.

No More New Education Policy Ideas, Please!

No More New Education Policy Ideas, Please!

David L. Kirp, Anthony S. Bryk, Janelle Scott, Mark G. Yudof

Event: No More New Education Policy Ideas—Please!

Date: October 21, 2016 Duration: 89 minutes

The 2016 US Presidental Election Spectacle or Horror Show?

The 2016 US Presidental Election Spectacle or Horror Show?

David L. Kirp

Event: The 2016 US Presidential Election: Spectacle or Horror Show?

Date: September 7, 2016 Duration: 52 minutes

Teaching is Not a Business: David Kirp

Teaching is Not a Business: David Kirp

David Kirp

Date: September 8, 2014 Duration: 4 minutes

David Kirp Discusses “Improbable Scholars” at Stanford University

David Kirp Discusses “Improbable Scholars” at Stanford University

David Kirp

Event: David Kirp on his 2014 AERA Outstanding Book Award - Improbable Scholars

Date: April 18, 2014 Duration: 85 minutes

David Kirp Discusses “Improbable Scholars” at the City Club of Cleveland

David Kirp Discusses “Improbable Scholars” at the City Club of Cleveland

Professor David Kirp

Date: April 4, 2014 Duration: 57 minutes

David Kirp Speaks on Improbable Scholars in Somerville, MA

David Kirp Speaks on Improbable Scholars in Somerville, MA

David Kirp

Event: Improbable Scholars Talk with author David L. Kirp

Date: March 19, 2014 Duration: 90 minutes

David Krip Speaks on “Improbable Scholars” at Center for American Progress

David Kirp

Event: Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools

Date: April 2, 2013 Duration: 82 minutes

David Kirp Discusses “Improbable Scholars” on C-SPAN2 Book TV

David Kirp

Event: Book Discussion on Improbable Scholars

Date: March 26, 2013 Duration: 68 minutes

Authors@Google: David Kirp

Authors@Google: David Kirp

David Kirp

Date: February 12, 2008 Duration: 56 minutes



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