A woman passionate about learning, Marva Collins received her early education in Atmore, Alabama, a town where the segregated school system provided very few resources for African American students. Eventually, Marva attended Clark College in Atlanta, Georgia and, after graduation, returned to Alabama. She taught for two years in the Alabama school system before moving to Chicago, where she worked in the public school system for fourteen years.
Frustrated by the Chicago Public Schools' low standards, Marva Collins decided to open her own school in 1975 on the second floor of her home, naming it the Westside Preparatory School. The first students included her son, daughter and several neighborhood children, some of whom were considered to be learning-disabled. At the end of the first year, every student scored at least five grades higher on their standardized tests. Soon, Marva Collins' success attracted national attention. She and the Westside Preparatory School were profiled on 60 Minutes, Good Morning America, in Time and Newsweek magazines, as well as in a television movie entitled The Marva Collins Story.
Her achievements prompted Ronald Reagan to offer her the post of Secretary of Education, which she declined in order to continue the development of Westside Preparatory School. At the end of 1996, Marva decided to return to the Chicago Public School system in order to supervise three schools that had been placed on probation. She specifically requested those schools with the worst academic records and lowest parental involvement rate. In only half a year improved the ratings of two of the three schools by eighty-five percent. During the following year, the Marva Collins Preparatory School of Wisconsin opened its doors to its first class of students. Other schools have since opened in Ohio and Florida.
Throughout her career, Collins trained over 100,000 teachers and she traveled to Africa with the Young Presidents' Organization in order to spread her methodology to educators worldwide. She received over forty honorary doctoral degrees from universities including Dartmouth and Notre Dame and in 1982 was honored, along with Barbara Walters, as one of the 'Legendary Women of the World'.
Collins passed away on June 24, 2015 at the age of 78.
Marva Collins was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 2, 2000.