David Kirp - Talk on his recent book Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools

Wednesday, April 16, 2014 - 5:00pm to 7:00pm
5pm talk, 6:30pm book signing and reception

CERAS Learning Hall, Stanford

David Kirp, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, will be speaking on his new book Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America’s Schools.

David L. Kirp, James D. Marver Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, 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.

His latest book, Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for American Education, has been hailed by reviewers and widely cited by education policy-makers. It has garnered endorsements from across the political spectrum. The book chronicles how Union City, New Jersey, a poor urban school district, has transported Latino immigrant children, many of them undocumented, into the education mainstream: more than 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 superintendent’s office, where the crucial if undramatic system-building gets done, from the schoolhouse to the potent politics of the community. This isn’t just an inspiring story—its lessons 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. He has spoken on the issue of public education reform to 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 has lectured on this topic at Harvard University, Teachers College-Columbia, New School University, University of Virginia, Boston College, NYU, Vanderbilt University and Amherst College. 

His work with government agencies and foundations, as well as his teaching and 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 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), garnered 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 lectured at major universities across the country and around the globe, among them Glasgow, Ben Gurion, Wellington, Melbourne, Trento, Oslo, Bergen, ITAM (Mexico), Vigo (Spain), McGill, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Brown, NYU, Princeton, Chicago, UC-San Diego, Rutgers, UCLA and theNew School. He 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 educated millions of children in the developing world. He formerly served on the boards of Experience Corps and the CORO Institute for Leadership. 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.