Installment 18: Audio & Video Transcripts

Media 1 (Video): Mike Kirst: “As we move into the future, I’m looking at other countries…that did large-scale (standard’s based) reforms…’ statewide'”

(2 minutes 30 seconds)

Education Commission of the States (ECS) source video URL:

Mike Kirst Receives the 2021 James Bryant Conant Award

Moderator: Hello and thank you for joining me as we honor Dr. Michael Kirst as the recipient of the 2021 James Bryant Conant Award.

Mike Kirst: Really, we’re in the fourth inning of a nine-inning ballgame when we got rained out by Covid.

So, as we move to the future is what I’m working on now.

And the keyword, I think is “capacity building” of local educators. [That’s] because states, of course, can’t mandate, regulate—we can’t even incentivize very well–what teachers and principals and school people do together. Teachers have to work together on this.

But the state’s role has to be to mount a massive infrastructure, if you will, amount the ideas of infrastructure that are now seen in the country on how we can build that capacity through state leadership.

And in doing so I’m looking at other countries that have done it “statewide” –where you just don’t have pockets of full implementation of challenging curriculum, but you scale it all the way up.

Some of those places I’m looking at are Ontario Canada (which is a very large expansive state), Singapore, some of the big “states” in Australia, and some of the U.S. states that did large scale before [Covid-19].

This capacity-building has many aspects. But as people talk to me in other places, they say, “In the U.S. you go hire experts to get curriculum improvement now often. We build it into the districts; we build it into the everyday, into the professional work of the teachers through expanded professional development.

So, I can’t describe all of this to you now. But you’ll be hearing more from me about all this and about big thinking, big infrastructure, big capacity building, [and] statewide scale-up.  You’ll be hearing [more] about it in the next months and years.

And I look forward to working with ECS (the Education Commission of the States) on refining it, tailoring it to states, and working with all of you to make a better future for education.


Media 2 (Audio): Mike Kirst: “In 1978…we applied as the California State Board of education…and I got to tell you” these stories

(1 minute 22 seconds) Dick Jung interview Mike Kirst, August 23, 2021 

Mike Kirst: One of the things on the state board [the California State Board of Education]–we got the bright idea to go to China in 1978.

The Gang of Four was still there. And we heard that China would take visitors, but you had to come as groups. And we applied to the California State Board of Education. And they accepted us for a 21-day-tour of China in 1978. And they asked me to bring, in addition to the board, deans of engineering (and) science educators.

And I got to tell you this story: This woman named Susan Shirk (at) UC San Diego was an expert on China. She could never get to China. And she asked me, “Can I go along?”

And I said, “Yeah, come.”

Susan Shirk became the assistant secretary of state for China. And our first tour of China is tagging along with us ( in the seventies…..).

The Dean of Engineering at UC San Diego— they took him away in a car and (he) began briefing everybody on how they taught science education [the correcting himself saying], dean of engineering how they taught engineering…. We brought a guy from Berkeley… who was a science educator, and they took him and had him briefing them on K-12 science education. It was really pretty amazing.


Media 3 (Audio): Mike Kirst: My early attempts “of trying to get outside of the box of the U.S. in my thinking”

(51 seconds) Dick Jung Interview with Mike Kirst, August 23, 2021

Mike Kirst: The other thing I dabbled in, which I got to enjoy, was that I headed this US/Australia Education Policy Project — and there’s a book in the ’80s. And I was a U.S director of that, and (Jim) Kelly funded that and so did Dennis Doyle over at NIE (National Institute of Education).

And then I also worked for OECD on school finance comparisons across countries. And that was fun. Anyway, I began to get this zest for international.

Then, I ended up chairing the Board of International Comparative Studies of the National Academy of Sciences. So anyway, that was the beginning of trying to get outside of the box of the U.S in my thinking.

Australia was a great place to start, because, of course, it has state governments and they’re so powerful and their English heritage and so on.


Media 4 (Audio): Mike Kirst: “I was the one that was the most obstreperous of the group”…..about the British government being “outrageously culpable” in not investing advanced training and education “and not worrying about quality” of Hong Kong teachers and in general in post-secondary education opportunities for its citizens.

(1 minute 23 seconds)

Mike Kirst: I was the one that was the most obstreperous of the group–challenging his Excellency, the Governor. Everybody else was cowed by the guy. And I made the decision that I’m going to go in and tell the truth. What can this guy do to me? How can he really hurt me? I don’t think he can.

So, here’s just a really good statistic: When we were there, the enrollment of Hong Kong high school graduates in postsecondary education of any form was 3% of the graduating class–3%. Now that’s ridiculous on its face.

So, I unloaded with his Excellency that this was outrageous (laughs). And everybody else was silent. And his Excellency looked at me as some kind of trash from America or something.

We were really dealing with a colony. I thought that the British were outrageously culpable for not providing the citizens of a very wealthy colony, generating huge amounts of revenue for the English treasury. And to not invest in education at the low level they were investing and not to worry about quality –I couldn’t find any excuse for this. The 3% number tells you everything.


Media 5 (Video): After the title slide, Mike Kirst: “… Every time I pick up a paper, I see that we’re ranked twelfth or eleventh. You need to understand in detail how international assessments are put together and who is doing it.”

(1 minute 4 seconds)

C-Span source video URL:

 Mike Kirst on International Testing Comparisons a October 9, 1990 Congressional Hearing

Title Slide for National Governors’ Association Initial Meeting on the “Progress of National Education Goals, October 9, 1990:

Music and voice-over: Up next, the National Education Goals Panel meets to chart the progress of the National Education Goals developed by the National Governor’s Association.

At the end of this full morning meeting, each panelist is asked if he or she has any final comments. Below are Mike’s remarks to that invitation:

Mike Kirst: The one area I would urge you to look at very carefully is the content nature, validity, and reliability of these international assessments that we’re [the United States] being compared to.

Every time I pick up a paper, I see that we’re ranked twelfth or eleventh in where we are.  You need to understand, I think, in detail, how these international assessments are put together (and) who’s doing it. Some of the data looks very old to me, including some of it[the data] is from the early 80s that’s still cited. Other international assessments are put together by private organizations like the Education Testing Service.

So that if this is the international Olympics we’re in, I would like to be assured that the panel has looked carefully at whether these international comparisons are things that you feel good about and that you feel are the appropriate things for the American system to shoot for.


Media 6 (Audio): Mike Usdan: “It’s an incredible mind…with an intellectual curiosity that’s insatiable.”

(30 seconds) Dick Jung interview Mike Usdan, September 14, 2018

Mike Usdan: There’s nobody like him–his ability to move from issue to issue with saliency, his adaptability. So many academics are on one track. And Mike [on the other hand] moves from school finance to school governance, to coordinated services, to higher education’s role in the regional economy in the Bay Area. It’s an incredible mind. It’s an expansive mind–with an intellectual curiosity that’s insatiable. And that’s what’s unique about him.