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The Clough Center for the Study of Constitutional Democracy

The Future of America's Schools


Wednesday, September 25, 2013
5:00 p.m.
Devlin Hall, Room 101
Boston College

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

Panelists include:

  • David Kirp, University of California, Berkeley
  • Andreas Alonso, Harvard University
  • Gigi Georges, Harvard University
  • Jal Mehta, Harvard University
  • Moderator: R. Shep Melnick, Boston College

Copies of Professor Kirp's latest book, Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for American Education, will be available for purchase at the event.

Co-sponsored by the Boston College Political Science Department and the Lynch School of Education.


watch the event



speaker bio



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, which received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Library Journal, has garnered endorsements across the political spectrum. The book 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 district's headquarters, where the crucial if undramatic system-building gets done, and the potent politics of the community. In its final chapter, the book explores other successful school districts, showing how the lessons learned from these communities can be applied nationwide. As with his other writing, Improbable Scholars is aimed at a broad audience as well as policy-makers and practitioners. A New York Times article making this “back to basics” reform argument was the second most widely emailed article. In recent months, he has written for the Los Angeles Times, Washington PostAmerican Prospect, The Nation, Slate, Newsweek/Daily Beast, San Francisco Chronicle and New York Daily News.

His work with government agencies and foundations, as well as his teaching and his community activism, address these same 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), which emerged from that experience, 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. The 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), 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 and in 2012 received the "Champion for Children" award from First Focus. 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, Boston College, 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 currently serves as a member of the board of two cutting-edge nonprofits, Experience Corps and Friends of the Children, and on the international advisory committee of Escuela Nueva, a Colombia-based nonprofit that in the past quarter-century has transformed the lives of nearly 10 million students across Latin America and elsewhere. At the Goldman School of Public Policy at Berkeley, he launched the New Community Fund, which promotes greater student diversity, and has underwritten an eponymously-named scholarship.