Installment 15: Audio & Video Transcripts

Audio Clip 1: Mike Kirst: “After I left, I created a think tank called Policy Analysis of California [PACE]”

(Anita Hecht interview for the New Your State Archives’ Oral History Project on “The States’ Impact on Federal Education Policy,” November 19, 2013, 37 seconds)


Mike Kirst: After I left [my first terms as President of the State Board of Education in 1981,] I created a think tank called Policy Analysis for California Education, which exists today.

Our goal was to “speak truth to power.” And it was a very unusual thing. It was a professor at Berkeley, Jim Guthrie, and myself. We then added USC [University of Southern California], a professor down there. We were really oriented around going to the state capital and saying – “What do you need to know? What policy problems are on your agenda that we can work on?”

Then we would work on the problems that they faced and write analytical university-based research papers on their problems.

So, I remained a figure in Sacramento in all that interim.


Audio Clip 2: Mike Kirst: “One of the things I taught at Stanford…”

(Stanford Emeriti Council presentation, “Michael Kirst ‘Autobiographical Reflections,’” February 5, 2015, 37 seconds)


Mike Kirst: One of the themes I’ll have is that being in and out of government policymaking creates unusual insights as to what policymaking is really like. It provides stimulation for what researchers call “grounded theory.” In other words, you work your theory from a base of reality.

And having all the experiences in politics that I’ve had— and that’s the one thing I taught at Stanford was how to be a good politician. You get the ability to get inside the head of the politician and think the way they think. And that helps you present and adapt your policy recommendations in your policy areas.


Audio Clip 3: Ted Lobman: “Mike really helped guide a person…”

(Dick Jung interview with Ted Lobman, December 9, 2021, 36 seconds)


Ted Lobman: I liked Mike’s courses. Personally, I did not have much of a political inclination. I didn’t really follow politics at all in college. And even in grad school, I was only slowly coming to understand the importance of politics as well as policy. And Mike really helped guide a person who was not naturally political to at least become attentive to political considerations.

I thought Mike was a good teacher. He was a storyteller teacher.


Audio Clip 4: Ted Lobman: “That [news] had to be pleasing to Mike and Jim…”

(Dick Jung interview Ted Lobman, December 9, 2021, 1 minute and 41 seconds)


That had to be pleasing to Mike and also Jim Guthrie, because they now had a friend in an emerging foundation that had a strong education interest…
I got in a habit of calling Mike or Jim or both when I had ideas in front of me that I thought might be relevant to the policy or the economic side of it….

The Hewlett Foundation decided it would spend a lot on public education and what would we do.

So, the first thought is the university’s relationships with schools. And that was going to be good for Stanford, of course, and other universities that had ed schools that wanted to change the way they were working with schools. So, I got a little advice from Mike and Jim on that.

But we were also thinking, inside the Hewlett Foundation, that policy was important. Education policy was not widely attended to in the foundation world. There were some foundations that put money into it, like Jim Kelly’s foundation, the Ford Foundation. But by and large, there wasn’t much happening. Plus, I think we looked into it enough and thought that the state level was really where the most important policy in education is made. So, we wanted to look into how to strengthen education policymaking in California.

I met with Mike and Jim on the subject of creating some kind of an institute. I don’t think it took more than a few months and eventually, a proposal came out. And the Hewlett Foundation-funded Policy Analysis for California Education.

And of course, Hewlett was glad when in the years subsequent, programs in Florida and other states also developed [institutes] more or less modeled on the model Mike and Jim had come up with.


Audio Clip 5: Allan Odden: “His start and tenure at University of Southern California…”

(Dick Jung interview with Mike Allan Odden, October 12, 2018, 23 seconds)


Allan Odden: I moved in [19]84 to California. I was at the University of Southern California from [19]84 to [19]93. And then I became part of PACE. And I was the Southern California “PACE person.” And at that time, PACE was Mike and Jim Guthrie. And then I was added and Jerry Hayward who had then just left being the chancellor of the community college system.


Audio Clip 6: Allan Odden: “Mike led the efforts in California…”

(Dick Jung interview with Allan Odden, October 12, 2018, 20 seconds)


Allan Odden: He really raised the issue of conditions of children more broadly than just in education and led a PACE effort to look at conditions of children in California. So, it was education, but it was also, all the health issues, all the social welfare issues, pre-school et cetera, et cetera. So, it was children looked at broadly, not just the education [side].


Audio Clip 7: Mike Kirst: “PACE is going really strong…”

(Dick Jung interview with Mike Kirst, December 1, 2021, 32 seconds)


Mike Kirst: PACE is going really strong. It’s transformed itself into a really huge force. The MA/MBA program is one legacy, but the PACE program is another.

It’s really keeping us in the policy stream. There’s many, many other policy organizations, but none of them are research-university oriented, with the four leading in the state. It’s really very strong. I persisted with that from 1983 to 2004. (Chuckling). It was a long go.


Audio Clip 8: Mike Kirst: “Smith… goes off to the Clinton administration…”

(Dick Jung interview with Mike Kirst, December 1, 2021, 32 seconds)


Mike Kirst: Just to give you a funny story. We [Stanford] bid against the CPRE reorganization at Stanford–the original contract for federal education policy center, called the Institute of Finance and Governance–to the CPRE consortium, led by [Susan] Fuhrman and Mike Smith, [who was the head of the research policy center] at the University of Wisconsin. Then Smith becomes Dean [at Stanford]. I had not known Smith that well; I knew him somewhat. And then he goes off to the Clinton administration and hands CPRE right to me. So, off he goes…and the loser becomes a winner.


Video Clip 9: Mike Usdan introducing Mike Kirst at the National Press Club symposium

(C-Span video, October 27, 1992, 5 minutes and 43 seconds)

Mike Usdan: The book [holding up a copy of the Institute for Educational Leadership’s 1992 monograph Governing Public Schools: Changing Times and Changing Requirements] is essentially a product partially of the fact that all three of the authors are school board junkies. A couple of us have served as school board members ourselves. We’ve kind of lived it. And our very profound sense is that if indeed enduring exchange is to occur in American education that they are going to have to pay much, much more attention to this institution—which isn’t about to go away.

And with that, let me introduce my colleague and one of my co-coauthor, Mike Kirst.

Mike Kirst: Thank you, Mike. I’m going to sketch more of the background on why we came to the conclusions we came to–that school boards need to have drastic surgery performed on them by state governments.

First of all, the last major change in school board roles, operations, responsibilities, and operational expectations and public expectations was in the period 1900-1920. That’s when we reformed school boards in the United States the last time.

We did two things essentially there: we divorced them from other units of local government that deal with children and sent them off in splendid isolation to solve the multiple problems of children.

Secondly, we charged them with not only setting policy, but doing everything in terms of the operational details of the school district–approving toilet paper requisitions, field trips for students, and everything else. School boards are expected to own, operate, and oversee all aspects of the schools.

Over the years, state governments, charter school boards—and I want to stress that school boards have no independent constitutional base in the United States. They exist at the pleasure of the state government. One of them, Hawaii, doesn’t even have local school boards. So, state governments over the years have piled more and more functions onto school boards without rethinking their role.

This has led, in our view, to some major performance failures in school boards which are outlined in the report on pages 49 and 50 that have led to our conclusions that we need to do something major.

Not only have there been performance problems in the school boards but one of our key theses, in the beginning, is that everything’s been changing around the school boards except the school board’s roles, expectations, and operations.
Some of those are:

  • Children’s conditions have deteriorated rapidly in the United States. Over 21 percent of our children are growing up in poverty; half of our children will grow up sometime in their 18 years in a single-parent family-not the whole time–but some period
  • 25 percent of our young people are not covered by any health insurance
  • And we have skyrocketing incidences of child abuse and other areas that call for children’s protective services.

So, this detachment of school boards from other units of local government that deal with children, we feel is dysfunctional and one of the major reasons we feel their role needs to be changed.

Second, there is a terrific or very large increase and higher expectations for pupil outcomes and pupil standards. National standards, national goals, national exams–all of those, we feel will be elements in the 1990s.

In the area of curriculum policy-setting student standards, school boards have reported in their own surveys that they don’t feel that they’re doing a very good job on this. And part of this, we feel, is that they don’t focus on it enough and they’re not charged to do it. All of this, of course, is related to international economic competition.

Third, decentralization is called upon in many large school systems. And the school boards, as far as we can tell, have not really figured out how to handle decentralization and oversee it in any systematic way.

Fourth, is the turnover of superintendents which has been very high in the last two years. The Great Cities Research Council reports that between 1990 and 1992, 40 of the 47 large school districts have changed their superintendents in that two-year period. So, there’s some real heavy turnover there.

Lastly, the response in the eighties to the reforms by school boards has been on the one hand heartening in that they’ve responded to the states and on the other hand, disturbing. The basic response has been the intensification of existing educational policies and not restructuring a real change, [instead,] just more homework, more testing, and more graduation requirements.

The result of this, I think, has been that the school boards have been undercut. And this will be my final comment–that the biggest loser in educational politics in the last 35 years has been the school boards. Everybody else has gained power at their expense: federal government, state governments, courts, interstate testing organizations, unions, and all sorts of special interest groups that have been formed at the local level. So, the school boards have been squeezed into this narrow zone of discretion.

Our view and Jackie will pick up on this, is that we believe school boards are essential to keep. The public in surveys indicates that if you didn’t have a school board, they’d want to create it. They see the options as not viable–meaning turning it over to state government such as Hawaii does. The public has reported they don’t want that. And they don’t want education turned over to school administrators and professionals. One of the credos of American education is that education is too important to be left to educators.

So, we call for a redefinition of the role of school boards, specifying through state government what they should and should not do.