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Education policy expert and “Kids First” author David Kirp visits UCOP

Tune into these words of wisdom from David Kirp . . .

  • On technology in the classroom: “A Smart Board does not replace a smart teacher.”
  • On why children need advocates: “Seniors now get $7 [per head] for every $1 that kids get.”
  • On primary vs. higher education: “The only way universities can make a claim on public dollars is to tie their efforts to pre-K to 12 education.”

Kirp, a professor at Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy and author of Kids First: Five Big Ideas for Transforming Children’s Lives, spoke on Sept. 6 to an audience of about 100 UCOP staff in Franklin Lobby One Conference Room.

If you missed it, you can hear an audio recording of the talk, which kicked off the UCOP President’s Speaker Series.

In introducing Kirp, a former Sacramento Bee associate editor who served as a member of the 2008–09 Presidential Transition Team, Yudof described him as a prolific and beautiful writer who has published 15 books on social policy ranging from early childhood and higher education to AIDS, race and ethnicity. In 1974, Kirp and Yudof coauthored the textbook Educational Policy and the Law, now in its fifth edition, and in 1982 coauthored Gender Justice.

His UCOP talk, “Waaay Beyond No Child Left Behind: A Kids-First Agenda,” focused on his latest book, Kids First, published in March.

In it, he proposes establishing a national kids-first policy to benefit children, built on strategies that he experienced firsthand by traveling to schools and communities across the country. These pillars of support are successful, low-cost and evidence-based programs that could be replicated on a broad scale.

“Programs are lovely little things, but we need a system of supports for all kids that operates broadly,” Kirp said. “That doesn’t mean that all kids get to go to Berkeley or have an internship at the Sorbonne. This is not the Cadillac model; it’s the Kia model, the good-enough model.”

We love lists, Kirp said, so he organized his book around a list of five components — starting with the home or “littlest schoolhouse” and expanding outward to encompass social and life skills — to provide:

  • solid support for parents through nuts-and-bolts efforts like the Positive Parenting Program;
  • “brainy” preschool education that allows kids to develop their natural curiosity and emotional makeup;
  • “community schools” offering links to communities’ cultural, social and health services to supplement and enhance academics;
  • mentoring programs, like Big Brothers and Big Sisters, that provide kids with a second perspective on the world; and
  • child savings accounts, which give kids an early sense of financial responsibility and give even poor families a sense that their kids have a future.

The talk was peppered with startling facts and statistics — for instance, that the number of hours kids spend unsupervised is a better predictor of school failure than race or class. Kirp’s solutions (“You can say, please, Grandma! No more toys! Just put some money in this account.”) are elegantly simple and sensible. Although the current economy makes it hard to consider new initiatives, Kirp admitted, he said a kids-first agenda is an easy one to support.

“Everything we know about politicians who have succeeded by becoming champions for kids says that it is not a Republican issue, it is not a Democratic issue. It cuts across that set of concerns. Indeed, if a politician paints his or her opponent as anti-child, and successfully does so, those conservative grandmas who’ve never voted for that party in their life will vote for that candidate on the basis of that issue.”

He wrapped up by saying that UCOP’s interest in inviting him to speak demonstrates that his “crib to college” agenda aligns with UC’s mission, that is, “a vision of high-quality, affordable higher education for everybody who’s qualified to do it.”

Yudof said he initiated the new speaker series to showcase the talent and public contributions of UC faculty, alumni and other prominent Californians doing groundbreaking work in the areas of education, policy/politics and research.

“Part of the fun of working at the Office of the President,” Yudof said, “should be consistent exposure to the people we’re serving on the campuses and familiarity with the formidable individuals who are contributing so much to the state and to the country.”

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