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About the Michael Kirst Project

Robert Hall, 1764–1831 English writer and social reformer

Of all the species of literary composition, perhaps biography is the most delightful. The attention concentrated on one individual gives a unity to the materials ... which is wanting in general history.

Michael Kirst: The Uncommon Academic

Michael Kirst in front of his office, Room 123, Cubberley Hall, Stanford University
Mike Kirst at his Standford office, Room 123, Cubberley Hall

Non-fiction writers and historians have long known that history becomes more accessible to a wider audience when it is told through compelling biographies of key figures.

And today's technologies offer us opportunities to do just like never before. And that's what this biography project is about: to make anyone who cares about American schools learn about one of the most important education reformers over the past half-a-century.

This pioneering biography project believes one of the best ways to make the life and contributions of such a major education figure come alive is through a multi-media platform which blends a written narrative with video clips, audio recordings, and photos along with custom graphics (such as useful color-coded timelines) through a series of published installments entitled "Michael Kirst: The Uncommon Academic."

Dr. Michael W. Kirst is Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University serving on the faculty for nearly four decades before assuming his emeritus status. In 2011, Kirst became the President of the California State Board Of Education for the second time. Professor Kirst was a member of the California State Board of Education from1975 to1982 and its president from 1977 to 1981.

In 1993 Mike co-founded the Policy Analysis Center for California Education (PACE) think tank. He has written, co-authored, or edited fifteen books and nearly 230 articles, monographs, and working papers on school finance politics, curriculum politics, intergovernmental relations, as well as education reform policies. See Mike's Wikipedia page for other biographical details.

However, Mike's long-time friend and professional colleague, Jim Kelly, who is the founding President and former CEO of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, at the outset of this biography project offered this gently chiding advice:

"We all know he’s smart, and one of the nation’s absolutely top education leaders. OK, you’ve gotta write about all that serious stuff, but make sure you don’t drift off into ‘do-gooder drivel’ and thus miss the ‘whole guy’—the guy who gave beer-tasting parties at Stanford, avidly follows favorite sports teams, who is a great father and husband…and yes, the education policy-maker with an amazing career.”

The multi-media approach allows us to follow Kelly's advice to enjoy, learn about, learn from Mike Kirst, the "whole guy" directly as well offers lessons for policymakers and educators on ways to advance education reforms for American education going forward.

While recognized in influential academic and policy circles, Mike 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. And, while some in the academic and policy circles might know about Mike, few if any are fully aware of his 50-plus-year trajectory and evolution, including serving as a trusted confidant for Governor Jerry Brown; two stints as California’s State Board of Education president, 30 years apart, in a state educating one out every nine American students as well as path-breaking policy work internationally and nationally, in several states across the county.

To reach the audience most actively engaged in American schooling "on-the-ground" (past, current, and prospective), this series of multi-media installments allows direct access to hearing from and about an effective educational reformer and respected academic that is not only well researched, but also available in several engaging formats.

This set of “conversations” with and about Mike not only brings to life 'the whole guy' but also offers important insights into central education reform efforts the past half-century that have stuck and many of which have not.

As American director and writer, Orson Welles pointed out, “There's no biography so interesting as the one in which the biographer is present”—hence the choice of “conversations” with well-chosen individuals who can make Mike’s life and influence come alive.

Are you new to the Michael Kirst Biography Project? I suggest starting with the first installment. It includes recorded insights about Mike from an interview I had with Jerry Brown during his last Friday day in office on January 4, 2019. Click here to begin!

Mike Usdan, Former President of the Institute for Educational Leadership (IEL), Washington, D.C.

I really like the Brown interview clip. It’s a wonderful encapsulation of Mike’s unique ability to cross boundaries and his transcendent capacity to communicate with very diverse groups. It’s rare for a governor (politician) to work so closely with an academic. That point should be stressed in your work.

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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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