Whatever happened to Marva Collins?

In all the big news last week, the death of Marva Collins seemed to slip under the radar.

Too bad; she was an education superstar.

“Kids don’t fail,” the New York Times recalls her saying. The newspaper carries her obituary today. “Teachers fail, school systems fail. The people who teach children that they are failures — they are the problem.”

She opened West Side Prep in Chicago’s Garfield Park neighborhood and expected — demanded, really — her students to succeed. No nonsense involved.

She turned down offers to be school superintendent in several big-city systems, and President Reagan was said to have considered her as secretary of education before she said she wouldn’t take the job.

In 1982, Ms. Collins was stung by accusations that she was not certified as a teacher and that she had overstated her record of success, but parents of the children in her school rallied to her defense. Her supporters said that as a substitute teacher she had not needed formal certification; others said their children had shown great progress after enrolling in the school.

“I’ve never said I’m a superteacher, a miracle worker, all those names they gave me,” she told The New York Times that year. “It’s unfair to expect me to live up to it. I’m just a teacher.”

Ms. Collins later turned over operation of Westside Prep to her daughter, Cynthia. It closed in 2008, with annual tuition at $5,500 and enrollment dwindling.

And then she disappeared.

In 1995, a 60 Minutes piece looked at her record as a teacher, and gave a platform to a writer who questioned her,finding his asserrtions lacking.

Since she left education, no one else seems to have come up with any solutions to the achievement gap.

  • Bridging the Gap

    Great educator. She was my role model when I was an undergrad. As an educator of color,the sad part as you said “Since she left education, no one else seems to have come up with any solutions to the achievement gap.” My experience is the few of us who are trying to do educational programs don’t get the support of the community or that of the school officials.

  • crystals

    She was my role model too. She and Harriett Ball – I’d watch videos (including this 60 Minutes interview) of them both and think about the kind of teacher I wanted to be, and my students NEEDED me to be.

  • Elspeth

    Thank you for posting the videos. They are inspiring!