Installment 17: Audio & Video Transcripts

Media 1 (Video): Mike Kirst: During these years, I was finally able “to translate policy and talk into action.” These were “the best years of a long career…between the ages of 71 and 79” (chuckling) …

(30 seconds)

Mike Kirst: …. I have a position, formally with the state board, informally with the governor and other organizations, including foundations—where I can put it all together from all those years and apply it. So, I’m finally at the ability to translate policy and talk into action. There’s not many people who can say the best years of a long career are between ages 71 (2011) and 79 (2019), but those will have been my best. [chuckling]

Media 2 (Audio): Mike Kirst: “Proceed with humility. That’s been a watchword.”

(29 seconds)

Mike Kirst: “Proceed with humility.” That’s been a watchword.“

When Jerry Brown first came into office, I was 35; he was 35; Gray Davis, was Jerry Brown’s executive assistant, he was 35, and Bill Honig was on the state board at 35. Our view (then) was, “We get these old guys out of here in Sacramento, we’ll solve these problems. We’re the smart guys.”

Then we all come back, and we’re a humble bunch of people, proceeding with great humility and plunged into the unknown.

Media 3 (Video): AERA – Mike Kirst: “When Jerry Brown came back in 2011,” we had the three necessary “vectors” for what [academics] call “the policy window opening.”

(1 minute, 41 seconds)

When Jerry Brown came back in 2011, after winning in 2010, we had what John Kingdon*, an eminent professor, calls “the policy window opening” in California in 2011.

There’s three vector forces of the policy window concept: We had a rising tide of revenue. Our revenue really took off at 2012. With a marginal income tax rate on income of 13 percent, you collect a lot of revenue in a rising tide. It’s continued to rise. So, part of the story is that condition is really there.

Second of all, we had a united political coalition for all of those years of the education groups, the business groups, even the Republican Party—to the extent that it has much influence there. And [we] have really been able to sustain this winning coalition over a period of time. And so that’s very important in that regard.

And I’ll talk later about our big trade with those teacher organizations. To oversimplify it, we traded them: we won’t do teacher evaluation while we phase in Common Core if you support us on everything else. And so, we’ve had the united education coalition. And that’s been needed to do.

And finally, the third vector force is a set of big ideas that are out there to be worked on.

*  John W. Kingdon is a specialist in American politics who has written influential books such as Agendas, Alternatives, and Public Policies. He recognized when the three vectors join together that Mike mentions–forming what he termed a “policy window”–there is a potential for important policymaking to occur. What are called “policy entrepreneurs” such as Mike Kirst and Jerry Brown who take advantage of these windows can create reforms not possible at other times.

Media 4 (Video): Louis Freedberg: “Governor Brown somehow was able to integrate…an ancient theological term, ‘subsidiarity’…and make [it] a central part of the reform process…”

(2 minutes, 54 seconds)

Louise Freeberg: Arguably what we do here in California–what I like to call the country of California–has a much more direct impact on kids. And what we do here shapes the lives of millions of kids:  one in eight public school children in the United States, and that’s in addition to millions more young people in early education and higher education programs.

Over the past eight years, EdSource has tracked all these permutations, the ins and outs of the multidimensional reforms that have been put in place by Governor Brown, by the State Board, by the good folks over at [California Department of Education] CDE, State Superintendent, and of course by the administrators, teachers, and staff at hundreds of districts and thousands of schools in California. I think it’s fair to say that there has not been a comparable period in California’s history where so many education reforms have been put in place under a single governor.

I think some people saw the local control funding formula as something entirely new, but actually its two principle features–the local control aspect of it and the funding formula–weren’t altogether new.

I’m sure many of you in the room recall the term “subsidiarity.” That was an ancient theological term that Governor Brown somehow was able to integrate and make a central part of the reform process. Basic idea being that central authority, whether it’s The Vatican or Sacramento, should stay out of local matters unless it could handle those local matters better.

And as for the funding formula, weighted student formula, which was how Governor Brown articulated it in his State of the State speech in 2012, well that was a term that was in Title I, 1965, and in many other federal grants and many states have that concept. But somehow all this came together in a remarkably coherent policy framework–and also a philosophical framework.

I was fortunate on the last day Jerry Brown was in office–it was a Friday, the last interview that he did in the governor’s office. My colleague, John Fensterwald, and I talked with him about what he viewed as his accomplishments–which he didn’t really want to focus on.

He said local control funding formula was just the mechanics of it. Really the philosophical key–and he talked about Martin Buber, the German philosopher–the key is in the meeting, the meeting between the student and the teacher.

And that is what he saw as his legacy–really trying to get local control and his focus on the creativity that goes on in the classroom. I’m going to talk about the design of state reform that has taken place over the last eight to 10 years. The design is really important, and our approach is one called “reform.” In other words, you look at all parts of the education system, and you need to address virtually all of those parts, and you need to do that in a coherent and aligned way so that the parts all fit together, they’re all working with the same synergy in the same directions.

Media 5 (Video): Mike Kirst:  “The design is really important…Our approach is one called ‘systemic’ reform’ [with] all parts of the education system…working with the same synergy, in the same direction.”

(38 seconds)

Mike Kirst: I’m going to talk about the design of state reform that has taken place over the last eight to 10 years. The design is really important, and our approach is one called “systemic reform.”

In other words, you look at all parts of the education system, and you need to address virtually all of those parts, and you need to do that in a coherent and aligned way so that the parts all fit together; they’re all working with the same synergy in the same directions.

Media 6 (Video): Linda Darling-Hammond: “I want to recognize the genius of the reforms that are underway” and “want to put a little perspective on it.”

(3 minutes, 22 seconds)

Linda Darling-Hammond: And so, I want to recognize the genius of the reforms that are underway. So, I want to put a little perspective on it.

John Merrow did that film, From First to Worst, which described California’s descent in the 1970s when we were thought to be one of the highest performing states in the nation, and the US was one of the highest performing states educationally in the world, probably the highest.

Prop 13, (which we’ve heard a lot about), the steady decline in funding, the issues in the Williams lawsuit. (I know John Affeldt is here and others from Public Advocates who were a part of that litigation.)* When it got to the point where we had 50,000 teachers on emergency permits, where we had huge inequality among districts, there was a three-to-one ratio of spending between rich and poor districts that was part of the spillover effects of the proposition.

We were low spending, we were unequal in our spending, the places that had the greatest needs, including many of our cities, Los Angeles and places like Compton and Oakland, were spending below the state average even though they had students with greater needs. There were districts going bankrupt, there were massive layoffs, there were cuts.

It was pretty bad.

And when you look at how low we had gone…., and in fact, on every achievement marker, we were 48th, 47th, 49th.  “Thank God for Mississippi!” is what people would say when the results came in. But then Mississippi surpassed us on some of those measures.

So now here’s where we are. Since 2011, the Local Control Funding Formula is actually one of the most progressive funding systems in the country. There’s a document that’s put out every year called “Is School Funding Fair?” [where] the states are ranked about their amount of spending and the fairness of their funding. We used to be at the very bottom both in the amount of money and the regressiveness of the spending. We’re now in the top 10 states in terms of the progressiveness of the spending.

Clearly, there’s not enough money in the system. Everybody’s made that clear. But as Mike Kirst put it (earlier in the forum), we went from somewhere around 48th in state spending to about 25th, but our cost of living is so high that if you take that into account, we’re still back down at around 41st or whatever the number is. But we have made huge, huge strides.

And although Williams was settled, this governor did that without a lawsuit requiring it. And that’s an extraordinary thing. If you look across the country, every state has been battling the inequalities in funding that are built into the American local property tax system for many, many, many decades.

There are more than 40 states with that kind of litigation: every state has its state flag, its state bird, and its state school finance lawsuit.

We had a leadership team that had determination, and the courage, and the vision to really turn that around and give us a base on which to build.

That is very, very, very rare.

*The Williams v. California case was filed in May 2020 where the defendants argued that California students were being denied equal educational opportunity.  See pp 7-x of “California Way” report for details.

Media 7 (Video): David Rattray:  To have Mike pass this “torch” onto Linda–“it’s just a gift beyond my wildest imagination and hopes for California kids.” 

(42 seconds)

David Rattray: I want to take a moment, just a tiny bit of privilege. I have to say this seems like an incredible moment that if we drew up a blank piece of paper and said, “Who are two of the greatest educators of our generation in the US?” It’s Mike Kirst and Linda Darling-Hammond.

And to have Mike, having served us now two tours of duty, this last eight years with Linda at his side and now to have that torch passed directly to Linda–it’s just a gift to me beyond my wildest imagination and hopes for California kids. 

Media 8 (Audio): David Rattray: First Meeting with Mike

(1 minute 3 seconds)

David Rattray: So, I’m sitting with Mike. Linda and I are going co-chair Tom’s transition team. I’m sitting in his office, and I look across the quad.  And you know, there’s Linda’s office. And I’m thinking…We could have a moment here in California where the most trusted adviser to the governor of California sits across the quad and has a lifelong friendship with the most important adviser to the sitting superintendent of education….

Now you actually have the two chief advisers that already have an established mature relationship, and they’re also philosophically aligned. They believe a lot of the same educational theory and practice.

That just struck me. At that point I was like struck by a bolt of lightning: I thought that this is a moment for California! And these things don’t come along [very often], and you’ve got to just throw everything you’ve got at it. That’s when “California Way” was taking shape. Right then! 

Media 9 (Audio): Mike Kirst: “Not many people were working the seam of higher ed/lower ed…” 

(Dick Jung, January 14, 2022, 21 seconds)

Mike Kirst: Not many people were working the seam of higher ed, lower ed.

So again, I want to stress the consistent thing–I guess I have used this before–of the Ty Cobb’s [saying] “I hit it where they ain’t.”

Look for stuff that’s really undiscovered, has a huge potential upside, and nobody else much is in that field. You can be a leader there.

Media 10 (Video): Mike Kirst on Remaking College… addressing the question: ‘Why does higher education get such little attention vs. K-12?’

(1 minute, 9 seconds)

Mike Kirst: The basic reason that higher education gets such little attention comparatively in public policy is that public opinion is relatively satisfied with higher education.  I think that is, as a book points out, not an accurate perception the public has because they’re basing that on the top schools that are nationally and worldly ranked and they extrapolate that quality to the entire system which is 80 percent broad access institutions–open enrollment accept all qualified applicants.

So, driving this K-12 public policy intervention is a public opinion that’s highly nervous and dissatisfied with K-12. But the biggest story in higher education is how can I afford it, rather than the quality isn’t there. And it really needs a radical overhaul of its quality and its teaching and its outcomes.

Media 11 (Video): Mitchell Stevens: I don’t believe “every instructional experience that happens in college has to happen in a single classroom”

(1 minute, 17 seconds)

Why remake college? (1minute, 17 seconds)

Mitchell Stevens: One of the things that the book is trying to do is encourage Americans to think about ways in which we can have college fit more comfortably into lives rather than fitting lives into college.

A four-year residential experience may be one good way to experience college but by no means is it the only best way, And I think we do our national conversation and frankly our college students a disservice by presuming that that’s the appropriate route for the best and brightest.

Why should other models be considered?

Mitchell Stevens: One is it’s extraordinarily expensive to deliver four years of instruction in a co-present context.

The simple fact of getting students and teachers together for extended periods of times so that they can be in the same physical location is a very large cost center for higher education.

I’m a big fan of good classrooms, but I don’t necessarily think that each and every instructional experience that happens in college has to happen in a single classroom. 

Media 12 (Video): Mike Kirst: “What’s distinctive about [this study] is that there is not much research on regional post-secondary education…This is really a comparative desert”

(1 minute, 19 seconds)

Both Dick and I worked on a prior book with Mitchell Stevens called Remaking College: The Changing Ecology of Higher Education.

So, we look at the whole scene of post-secondary education–any entity that’s out there. And you’ll hear more about that as we go along.

Richard Scott:

If I could say just one word. Mike and I are the senior authors on this. So, we have a collection of junior authors that are listed on the individual chapters: a group of researchers and doctoral students from the [Stanford] School of Education and the John Gardner Center. So, we had good assistance from junior colleagues.

Mike Kirst:

Good. Ok. Thank you. As you can see [shows a slide of the Bay Area, showing also the three objectives of the study], this is a study of the Bay Area, not just of Silicon Valley. But our publisher said, “Anything that has ‘Silicon Valley’ in the title sells. [laughter] So, you’ve got to distort this and [for example] call Berkeley as part of Silicon Valley and so on.” So, that’s what we’re doing. We did not include Sonoma County, for example. And so, it’s the inner ring of the Bay Area.

What is distinctive about where we were going with this, in part, is that there’s not much research on regional post-secondary education. We were amazed at how little there is. Most students in the United States go to post-secondary education in their region. And this is really a comparative desert!