Installment 20: Audio & Video Transcripts
Note: Some of the audio and video transcripts have been lightly edited and condensed.
Louis Freedberg “There almost certainly has never been anyone like him in California’s educational history, maybe just in the California period.”
Speaking about Dr. Michael Kirst:
There almost certainly has never been anyone like him in California’s educational history, maybe just in California period.
In 1977, Mike Kirst was the President of the California State Board of Education. He was an assistant professor–in his mid-30s or so. And in 2017, he is President of the State Board of Education again–40 years later. Can we just all give him a round of applause? [Applause]
Mike’s accomplishments have been legion: he has taught generations of students at Stanford University. I even sat in on a class of his about a quarter of a century ago. And there’s probably numbers of people here and who have been on panels and who have been influenced by or been students of Mike.
Andrea Venezia: Three words of advice for Fellows in the California Education Policy Fellowship Program
I run this education policy fellowship program now for the state where Mike is the exemplar for me… And, I just hammer it into the Fellows all the time: “Be like Mike.”
Governor Jerry Brown, speaking about working with Mike from the beginning: “It’s unusual for an academic and an elected politician to work so amiably and so closely together. “
I was writing an educational paper or platform, a few pages—10 or so objectives, goals—when I was running for governor. And I would get on the computer and type it. But I’d get him on the other end, and we talk about it. And he would revise, and we would share. So, we could actually work together on the drafting of ideas and policies. That was in the campaign. And of course, that was the precursor to the actual governing. That’s why it’s unusual for an academic and an elected politician to work so amiably and so closely together.
Louis Freedberg, quoting Brown’s words about Mike: “Mike is very much a person of inquiry. That’s probably why he’s able to create such harmony in a completely unharmonious world called ‘public education.’”
Governor Brown described Michael “as thoughtful, careful, and thorough.”
He [Brown] said, “I’m always asking him questions, and I like people to know what the hell they’re talking about. [Laughter]
And he generally either knows or he knows that he doesn’t. And he has an idea of how to find out or who might know. So, I find that very refreshing.”
“And he has a very open mind. He’s not an ideologue. Mike is very much a person of inquiry. That’s probably why he’s able to create such harmony in a completely unharmonious world called ‘public education.’”
“Mike Kirst is a thoughtful person, and he’s easy to work with. And he’s learning, and he’s open to the ideas in the field. So, that makes him a pretty unique participant in this educational world which is often weighed down with cliches and acronyms and faddish kinds of notions.”
That’s Governor Brown’s words.
Governor Jerry Brown, speaking about working with Mike: “advocacy v. inquiry [from installment 2]”
Jerry Brown: I like to distinguish people between those who live in advocacy and those who live in the inquiry. Yes, we can do a little of both, but you need a very strong measure of inquiry to take account of life and its many complexities. Michael’s been a good partner in that endeavor.
Mike Kirst: “Being in and out of government policymaking creates unusual insights as to what policymaking is really like.”
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.
Mike Kirst: The Policy Window Opens
(1 minute, 33 seconds)
We had what John Kingdon, an eminent professor, calls “the policy window opening” in California in 2011.
There are 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 has continued to rise. So, part of the story is that condition is really there.
Second, 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 it.
And finally, the third vector force is a set of big ideas that are out there to be worked on.
Mike Kirst: Carol Weiss’s Concepts of ‘Knowledge Seep’ and ‘Percolation’
(1 minute, 14 seconds)
The person that has most influenced my thinking about research use is the late Carol Weiss. She looked at this with a very different lens. She said, particularly looking at research and policy, that research is what she sees as a process—of not the direct line thing of the Agricultural Extension agent saying, “Here’s a new corn seed, plant it.”
Rather, it’s a much more indirect process.
She called it ‘knowledge creep.’ [meaning] that research filters over a long period of time into public policymaking, and you don’t see it very quickly and it isn’t exactly very direct. But [instead] it creeps through the system. She used the idea of “percolation” of the research percolating through the system.
And so, she traced how this happened with a decade of research–which I think is really on the money because these ideas, they lie fallow for a while and then you get the policy window opening, for example, and all of a sudden you can use all this stuff.
Mike Kirst: “Teachers have, in effect, a ‘pocket veto’ in implementing state policies.”
(1 minute, 2 seconds)
What I’ve learned is that the ending of the improvement process in education is really at the ending point in the classroom….
I focused initially and still focus on education finance, education governance, education accountability, and the aligning and coherence of state education policies.
All of that is necessary. And it makes a difference. And we should continue. But it is not sufficient. And we have learned, as we’ve updated our standards in the last 10 to 15 years that it takes more than high-level policy to drive really the point at which education is delivered. And that point, of course, is our classrooms.
And when the teacher closes the classroom door, she or he has the impact, in effect, a pocket veto over whether state policies are implemented or not.
Mike Kirst: “Still vast deserts where there wasn’t much going on.”
(1 minute, 15 seconds)
Frankly, I think, in a lot of ways, we have not been able to get our higher standards and our more challenging, and interesting and dynamic curriculum into those classrooms.
California worked very hard. We aligned all our policies very well, most of them at least. But we still had implementation [that was] very spotty.
We’ve mounted capacity-building in some areas and depth, but then there were great deserts where not much was going on in terms of changing teacher practices. So, I think as we move forward, we need to work harder on this. We don’t want to give up. We need to work harder…
Really, we were in the fourth inning of a nine-inning ball game when we got rained out by Covid.
So, as we move to the future is what I’m working on now. And the key word, I think, is “capacity-building” of local educators…The state’s role has to be to mount a massive infrastructure, if you will, around the ideas of infrastructure that we’re now seeing in the country on how we can build that capacity through state leadership.