David Kirp

David L. Kirp, James D. Marver Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, is the author of Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for America's Schools, from which this article is adapted.

Recent Articles

The Unkept Promises of Higher Education

Colleges need to focus on their original mission—undergraduate teaching—for a new wave of low-income and minority students.  

The Privileged Poor: How Elite Colleges Are Failing Disadvantaged Students By Anthony Abraham Jack Harvard University Press The Great Mistake: How We Wrecked Public Universities and How We Can Fix Them By Christopher Newfield Johns Hopkins University Press Two Cheers for Higher Education: Why American Universities Are Stronger Than Ever—and How They Meet the Challenges They Face By Steven Brint Princeton University Press This article appears in the Spring 2019 issue of The American Prospect magazine. Subscribe here . In a little-noticed development, access to college has grown dramatically since 2000: Postsecondary enrollment is up by about five million students to a total of nearly 20 million. The increase comes largely from minority and low-income students, who are often the first in their families to go to college. If these “new-gen” students stay in school and graduate, they may get the ticket to the middle class that they are hoping for. Over their lifetimes,...

A Good Old-Fashioned Education

Flickr/Thomas Favre-Bulle
When it comes to education policy, inconstancy is the only constant. During the past generation, self-styled reformers have pitched such nostrums as vouchers, charter schools, high-stakes accountability for teachers, and a near-total emphasis on reading and math. Nothing seems to be working, though: American students continue to lag on international tests and racial and ethnic achievement gaps stubbornly persist. Here's the good news: From Houston to Long Beach, Charlotte to Brownsville, school systems across the country—big and small; generously and meagerly funded; mainly Latino, mainly black, or heterogeneous; with elected school boards and mayor-appointed school boards—have figured out how to boost reading and math scores and shrink the achievement gap. The public has never heard about these accomplishments, and it’s easy to see why. Journalists thrive on color, and there’s nothing jazzy to report. Each of these districts has identified a few evidence-based...

Higher Expectations

What are colleges for? Research, economic advancement, or making students more interesting?

The rotunda at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville (Flickr/Kevin Harb)
The Great American University: Its Rise to Prominence, Its Indispensable National Role, Why It Must Be Protected , by Jonathan R. Cole, PublicAffairs, 616 pages, $35 Higher Education: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids , by Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, Henry Holt and Company, 288 pages, $26 More than nine Americans in 10 say that universities are among the nation's "most valuable resources," but they hold different and sometimes conflicting ideas about what universities are valuable for. Universities are expected to generate ideas and generate jobs, to prepare the next generation of leaders and open their doors to the great mass of high school graduates, to speak truth to power and serve as resources for those in power. Needless to say, higher education hasn't figured out how to do all these things at once, and its failings have been grist for a cottage industry of sharp-eyed critics. Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus' Higher Education is the latest addition...

The Great School Delusion

An education reformer discovers that tests, standards, and other silver bullets are no substitute for hard teaching.

The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education by Diane Ravitch, Basic Books, 288 pages, $26.95 The dream of post-partisan politics is dead, but there is surprising cross-the-aisle consensus on one big issue -- how to reform education. What's needed, according to the conventional wisdom, is a dose of market discipline. Down with neighborhood schools, teachers' unions, and professional expertise, the argument goes; up with high-stakes student testing, tough accountability standards for teachers, and charter schools. In the media as well, "reform" is equated with reliance on market-driven strategies to raise student test scores. This model powers the No Child Left Behind Act, the single bipartisan item on the Bush administration's domestic-policy agenda, as well as the Obama administration's $4.35 billion "Race to the Top" competition among the states. At the local level, school officials like Joel Klein in New York City and...

Our Two-Class System

The recession has worsened already widening inequalities of access and affordability
in higher education. Could it also trigger a new grand bargain?

The recession has been a double whammy for universities and parents, leaving colleges more dependent on tuition revenue while making it harder for families to pay the tab. Parents have lost their jobs, plummeting stock prices have decimated their college savings, and the home-equity loans that families used to rely on to finance their children's education have dried up. All of these forces have widened the gap between the haves and have-nots, and universities' own survival tactics have exacerbated the problem. One notable factor is the rankings race, which distorts student-aid policies and advantages already advantaged students. In the 2010 U.S. News & World Report college rankings, Harvard tied for the top spot with its perennial rival Princeton. Its generous financial-aid packages, according to the magazine, "bolstered [its] sterling academic reputation." Since 1983, this otherwise little-read magazine has increasingly become the de facto arbiter of excellence in higher...