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AERA 2017 Career Public Service Award Presentation in April 2018

"Conversations With and About Mike"

Background for presentation

“Public Policy Impact of Education Research: A 54 Year Career Perspective”


The use and impact of education research by policymakers has been of high interest and concern for over a half century. There is some empirical data and commentary that is both positive and negative about whether there is much policy impact from high quality research. It does not help that there has been exponential production of questionable advocacy research funded by special interests and foundations that is disseminated through a variety of digital sources and platforms.
This speech resulting from the Lifetime AERA public service award is different from the usual way these concerns are addressed . The author is both an educational researcher as a Stanford Professor since 1969 ,and policymaker for 54 years starting with the Johnson Administration in 1964 , the US Senate in 1967, and concluding with 15 years on the California State Board of Education (most as President)over a 43 year span. Consequently, a personal perspective is provided of some theories, concepts , and data concerning the policy impact from independent and objective education policy research. The personal component focusses upon why and how particular research studies guided and influenced the substantial overhaul of Ca state policy from 2010 to 2018 while the author was President of the State Board, and an adviser to Governor Jerry Brown. The California analysis is historical because the author was a state policymaker in Governor Brown’s first 2 terms from 1975-1983 as well as using research in federal policymaking 1964-1969.
The objectives of the speech are both to highlight particularly incisive and useful research to overhaul the policies of the largest state, and to reflect on which theories/concepts of research diffusion and use are most applicable to the recent Ca situation. The data is anchored in a study of a state where its enrollment exceeds that of the 22 smallest states, and a majority of the 6.4 million students is Hispanic, and only 25% white. Useful research is demonstrated in various phases of the state policy cycle beginning with problem recognition and concluding with evaluation of implemented policy.The paper is relevant to grounded theory that is a form of qualitative research designs. Lincoln and Denzin (2005) viewed qualitative research as a practice of examining studied subjects in natural settings and then transforming and making sense of the studied phenomenon.
The speech begins with various theories of how education research does and does not influence policy beginning with a 1965 federal government vision similar to agricultural extension agents and federal labs. It covers such approaches as design based implementation research, implementation science, positive deviance, networked improvement communities, and Carol Weiss theories of research diffusion through knowledge creep and percolation. The authors own experience is utilized from a perspective of co- founder for Policy Analysis for CA Education in 1983-2004 at Stanford , UC Berkeley, andUSC that focused on research generation and dissemination for improving Ca state ed policy.
The speech then moves to an overview of systemic state reform beginning in 2011 in California that demonstrates the use of particular research undergirding the distinctive Ca way to improve state education policy. This part demonstrates that independent and objective research can make a huge difference in what policy a state designs and implements over a 8 year period with a rising tide of revenue, a united and sustained political coalition, and a number of big research based ideas. This section will discuss a wide array of policies including new curriculum, teacher development, finance, and linkages to postsecondary education. The speech concludes with several 2018 positive state policy outcomes (graduation, test scores etc) that may be related to state policy change.

Editor’s Note: The Appendix for “Conversations With and About Mike” contains transcripts for the recorded audio and video clips. To view the Audio Transcripts go to this page >


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About the Project

The purpose of this biography project is to make a fascinating man’s life and accomplishments come alive. Dr. Michael W. Kirst, while recognized in influential academic and policy circles, is generally unknown to those most actively engaged in American education in the trenches of the nation’s classrooms and local boardrooms, including teachers, principals, and school district leaders.

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About the Author

Dick Jung first met Dr. Michael W. Kirst four decades ago. Mike, then Professor in the Schools of Education and Business, was completing his first year as President of California’s State Board of Education. During Jerry Brown’s first term as Governor, as Mike tacked between Palo Alto and Sacramento, Dick served as the Teaching Assistant for Mike’s Stanford “Politics of Education” course.

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About the Team

Dick is supported by a project team of content, digital research, and online experts that includes a senior education policy reviewer, a digital archives manager, and a website and multimedia design coordinator.

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