Installment 9: Audio Transcripts

Audio Clip 1: “California is a Leader in Changing Schools”

(Jack Jennings’ webinar about his new book, Fatigued by School Reform: Moderator, Loretta Goodwin, June 2020, 1:05)


Goodwin: Do you think that there are any states leading the way in advancing the types of reforms you’re suggesting? And if so, which ones? And in what ways that are most worth noting?

Jack Jennings: Mike Kirst in California was president [he said “chairman”] of the State Board of Education for both terms that Jerry Brown was Governor. And Mike Kirst did a very good job. I think California is a leader in changing schools. What they tried to do was to move decision-making down to the local level and be fair in the distribution of money. So that local people would have a chance to decide how the money is to be used. It’s yet to be evaluated and shown to be right. But I think that is the direction to be moving: define what’s really important and then give freedom to people to do other things.

So, I’d point to California. I’d point to Massachusetts. Massachusetts has had a decades-long effort to include schools [in decision-making]. Its schools are among the top in the country. If Massachusetts isn’t number one; it would be number two.

Audio Clip 2: Harvard Dean of Public Policy School’s Career Advice to Mike

(New York State Archives Interview; Interviewer, Anita Hecht, November 2013, 1:20)


Kirst: So, I’m now 24. The dean at the School of Public Administration at that time – I said I wanted to go to Washington, and he said, “Well, you ought to go to the Bureau of the Budget.” And I said, “Well, how’s that work?” He said, “I make phone calls and they interview you.” So I went down to the Bureau of the Budget, which is now a sub-part of the Office of Management and Budget, but at that time, was located in what is now the Executive Office Building, right next to the White House. Now they call it the White House.

So, they interviewed me and they said, “You look good. We have openings in veterans, water pollution, and K–12 education. You can have any of those three. Those are the openings.” And I said, “Well, if that’s the choice, I’ll take K–12 education.” So, that’s how we’re having this interview today. If there’d been another option, I would have gone another direction. The Bureau of the Budget idea was you had this general training and you were not to be hooked on an area or too sympathetic to it because we were supposed to watch the budgets. So, they didn’t want somebody from education because they thought they might be too much of a pro-education person. That was the style of it.

Audio Clip 3: Dean Price Sets Up Interview at Budget Bureau for Mike

(Jung interview: January 2020, 0:31)


Kirst: Price called the Budget Bureau. And he knew Velma. I remember the recruiting person; her first name was “Velma.” He was a big buddy of Velma. And he [Dean Price] said, “You belong here” [in the Budget Bureau]. And I said, “Well, how’s that work?” He said, “I make a couple phone calls.” I mean, it was a direct placement. I mean, I walked into that office for an interview, but they were already going to take me. I could just sense it.

Jung: So, this was Don K. Price making a recommendation to his buddy Velma. And it was sort of anointing that you needed.

Kirst: Yeah. I mean, I had it clinched—other than if I had shown up drunk or something. 

Video Clip 1: Starting My “Grand Tour” through Washington” at Age 25

(AERA Career Public Service Award Invited Presentation: “Public Policy Impact of Education Research: A 54 Year Career Perspective”: April 2018, 0:35)


I was 25 years old and so I made this grand tour through Washington. I work for the U.S. Department of Education as associate director of the White House Fellows and then I went to the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower Employment and Poverty. And my boss Senator Clark of Pennsylvania was defeated, and Humphrey lost. And so, I had to leave town and move—I had hoped temporarily—to California to Stanford University. Never thought of being a professor.

Audio Clip 4:  The Genesis of a New Federal Role in Education:  A Behind-the-Scenes Story of the Gardner Task Force

(John W. Gardner Legacy Oral History Project: Interviewer, Nancy Mancini, May 2018, 2:01)


Kirst: These groups [set up by John Gardner] met for maybe four months…five months…and it was described by people as taking nearly every idea to improve education and vacuuming it up. So, they had all these ideas, and then the group worked on it and Gardner was the head of it. It was called the Gardner Task Force. Any history of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act will begin with that, and they came up with the outlines and a lot of the specifications of what became the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

So, it was not done by the U.S. Office of Education. It was done by an outside group, and Johnson wanted these things secret in that he didn’t want people going out and saying, “He didn’t take my advice,” and so there was to be no public report, and you were sworn to secrecy.

Mancini: Who was on the task force?

Kirst: There were several people. Frank Keppel [Francis Keppel] was on it, who became the Office of Education head. Ralph Tyler, an eminent education educator, was on it. The president of the University of Minnesota, O. Meredith Wilson [Owen Meredith Wilson], was on it. * [See note below, citing written correspondence from Emerson Elliott (July 2020)]

They looked at higher education as well, and I didn’t pay very much attention to that, so there were two of us that worked on K–12, and they really outlined a massive new federal program, which of course Johnson wanted very much. He had been a schoolteacher in Stonewall, Texas, and he indeed signed the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in the classroom that he taught in—second grade—with his second-grade teacher in Stonewall, Texas. So, this was really a strong thing. 

* Written Commentary on this transcript from Emerson Elliott (July 2020): “Frank Keppel had been appointed by JFK as US Commissioner of Education. He was not a member, but attended the meetings and would, of course, eventually be a kind of recipient of the report. Ralph Tyler was a member, but Meredith Wilson was not. Other members were:

Jim Allen, New York Commissioner; mayor

Hedley Donovan, Editor, TIME;
Harold Gores, Pres. Ed Facilities Lab;
Clark Kerr, UC Pres;
Edwin Land, Polaroid;
Sid Marland, Pittsburgh supt;
David Riesman, Harvard;
Paul Reinert, Pres. St. Louis Univ;
Raymond Tucker, Mayor, St. Louis;
Stephen Wright, Pres. Fisk; Jerrold Zacharis, MIT”

Audio Clip 5: Emerson Elliott About Mike’s Strong Reputation and Approachable Style

(Jung Interview with Emerson Elliott, September 2018, 0:57)


Elliott: I do want to tell you a personal recollection that I have about Mike and the way that he always introduced himself to me.

He would always say that he was the first person who went through Harvard—with his combined education and government degree. And he said he always found it kind of strange because neither department really wanted to claim him as a graduate. And then when he talked to people outside [of Harvard], they were never quite sure what this was.

Well, whatever it was, it obviously served Mike extremely well.

Because, you know, he comes across not only as somebody whose reputation you’ve heard about and who has expertise in whatever he’s looking at. But he’s very low-keyed and very accessible and easy to talk to.

And you know you can say, “Gee! I wish we’d done that 20 years ago.” And, he’d say, “Yeah, you know, I never thought that was quite right.” You know, he’s just very accessible and easy. 

Audio Clip 6: “Walking the Tunnel”:  Sparking J.L.B.’s A Billion Dollars K-12 Decision

(Stanford Emeriti Council Presentation, Spring, 2014, 0:47)


Kirst: So, one of my first tasks was to do an analysis of what the budget was needed for the Title One of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. I’m 25 years old, so they say that “We want you to write this memo to the president costing this out and with recommendations.”

So, I write this down and they say, “Now Johnson wants options at the bottom, and he’ll check one.”

So I came up with a bunch of numbers for example and the top number we had was 750 million and I walked out under the tunnel over to the White House and dutifully gave it to his secretary and he came back pretty quickly.

He said.  “None of these are good enough. I want a billion dollars!”

And of course, you know, that was symbolic: the billion dollars. So that was really his [Johnson’s] way of doing it.

Audio Clip 7: White House Fellows “Match-Maker Mike”: L.B.J. and Doris Kearns

(Stanford Emeriti Council Presentation, Spring, 2014, 2:03)


Kirst: I had an interesting time there, and I got to know people in the White House. And they created yet another John Gardner thing called the White House Fellows Program: with a year at the top, where you interned with a Cabinet person.

Johnson was very enthusiastic about it. And I was recruited to be the Associate Director of the White House Fellows Program. And…this was truly amazing.

I mean, we met with all the Cabinet officers. I must have been to the White House six or eight times. They mixed us in–the younger people–for parties and so on.

And I’ll never forget. I won’t tell too many stories. I’ll move on, but the director was away with a death in the family, and the Commission had selected as a White House Fellow, Doris Kearns.

Everybody knows who Doris Kearns is.

After she was selected, an article came out in The New Republic, “How to Defeat LBJ” [Lyndon B. Johnson] in 1968. So, I had a call from the White House education aide, a guy named Doug Cater, screaming at me saying, “You’ve got to deselect her, you’ve got to deselect her.”

And I’m thinking, well the chairman of this commission is Douglas Dillon and the vice-chair is David Rockefeller. I’m supposed to call them up?

So, I stalled.

So, we had a beginning party for the White House Fellows. And down comes LBJ, down the spiral staircase with Walter Cronkite…I remember, he, was only about five foot two…Couldn’t believe how small he was.

He walks over to me and says, “You’re with the White House Fellows: Where’s Doris Kearns?”

So, there’s a dance going on…I said, “She’s right over there.”

So, LBJ goes over; asks her to dance; they wheel around; he gives her ‘the LBJ treatment’. [Laughter]

And she was with Johnson near the end and was at the ranch, writing his final book. It’s called LBJ and the American Dream. And she was with him in the last four months of his life.

So that’s ‘the LBJ treatment’.

Audio Clip 8 Legislative Work for U.S. Senate Committee Prepares Mike as a Reformer in California

(Jung Interview: May 2020, 1:18)


Kirst: So, we would have hearings on bills. Then I worked closely with the other special assistants, the other staff people, to get votes for what we wanted to put through the committee [The Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment, and Poverty]. And there were a lot of bills that went through the committee…

I’d arrange the hearings, who should come, who should testify. I would work with a minority group.

I work a lot of deals…. We needed Republican votes, I think, as I recall, on a lot of these issues. And so, there was Senator Javits and Senator [Winston Lewis] Prowdy, Republican from Vermont. They almost always voted with us–with the Democrats.  And the Democrats were all, you know, in the bag. They were working together.

I didn’t write a lot of bills. There was a council that wrote those bills. I would write them out. you know, in sections in terms of topics and inclusions, but then somebody would actually write the bills based on what I said. They were technicians. They knew how to write bills. And they asked a good question…

So, I actually, you know, played a major role in a lot of legislation. 

Audio Clip 9:  A Departing “Barons and Vassals” Lessons about Working in Politics

(Jung Interview: May 2020, 0:28)


Kirst: So [Senator} Clark lost, and he calls me. I had very little contact with him.

And he said, “Well, you did a good job.”

He said, “You know how this place works: There are barons and vassals. And the barons are the senators, and the vassals are the staff. And it’s like the Middle Ages: When the baron is slain, then the vassals are cut loose. And so, I’ve got to give you six weeks to get out of here.”

Audio Clip 10: Mike’s “Great Society Era”: Closing Remarks

(Stanford Oral History Project, Interviewer, Diana Diamond, January 2013, 0:12)


Diamond: Did you like your stint in government?

Kirst:  I loved it. I think if Humphrey had beaten Nixon in 1968, my life would have taken a very different turn. I was not ready to leave.