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Michael Kirst Interview for John W. Gardner Legacy Oral History Project (May 2018)

"Conversations With and About Mike"


John W. Gardner Legacy Oral History Project

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The materials are open for research use and may be used freely for non-commercial purposes with an attribution. For commercial permission requests, please contact the Stanford University Archives (
Copyright (c) The Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University. All rights reserved.
Sound recording-nonmusical
Still image
1 audio file; 1 text file; 1photograph
Stanford (Calif.) : Stanford Historical Society
May 03, 2018
born digital
Kirst, Michael W.
Kirst, Michael W.
Mancini, Nancy
Stanford Historical Society
Stanford Historical Society
Michael W. “Mike” Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education and an emeritus professor of education at Stanford University, discusses his early career in government, teaching education at Stanford University, and his personal and professional relationship with John W. Gardner.

Gardner, John W. (John William), 1912-2002
Civil Society > United States
Bibliographic information
Michael W. “Mike” Kirst, president of the California State Board of Education and an emeritus professor of education at Stanford University, discusses his early career in government, teaching education at Stanford University, and his personal and professional relationship with John W. Gardner. Upon graduating from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, Kirst worked for a task force on education led by Gardner during Lyndon B. Johnson’s administration, and he recounts stories from that time, including meeting with President Johnson to offer a cost estimate for the task force’s recommendations. He later became the associate director of the White House Fellowship, and recalls that Gardner was very involved in shaping the experience of the fellows. After working in the Johnson administration and then in the Senate, Kirst came to Stanford to teach in the School of Education, and he discusses making that shift. Upon Gardner’s return to Stanford in 1989, their families would frequently have dinner together. He fondly recalls those dinners and recounts stories from that time. He also comments on Aida Gardner’s personality and the enduring strength of her marriage to John Gardner. Other topics include Gardner’s emphasis on the importance of government, his focus late in his career on the power of local government, his belief in the need for campaign finance reform, and hiring Milbrey McLaughlin as the founding director for the Gardner Center for Youth and Their Communities.
Michael W. Kirst is Professor Emeritus of Education and Business Administration at Stanford University. 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 (1975-1982) and its president from 1977 to 1981. Kirst received his bachelor’s degree in economics from Dartmouth College, his MPA in government and economics from Harvard University, and his PhD in political economy and government from Harvard. His first job out of Harvard was as staff to President Lyndon B. Johnson’s task force on federal aid to primary and secondary schools (1964), led by John W. Gardner, who was then still president of the Carnegie Corporation. The work of that task force directly informed the 1965 Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). Much later, Kirst and Gardner were to become neighbors on the Stanford campus. Kirst held several positions with the federal government, including staff director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Manpower, Employment and Poverty; and director of Program Planning and Evaluation for the Bureau of Elementary and Secondary Education in the U.S. Office of Education (now the U.S. Department of Education) when John W. Gardner served as Secretary of Education. He was a program analyst for the Title I ESEA Program at its inception in 1965, a budget examiner in the Federal Office of Budget and Management, and associate director of the White House Fellows program. Kirst is active in several professional organizations. He was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in Behavioral Sciences. He has been a member of the National Academy of Education since 1979. He was vice president of the American Educational Research Association and a commissioner of the Education Commission of the States. Kirst cofounded Policy Analysis for California Education (PACE). A prolific writer, Kirst has authored ten books, including The Political Dynamics of American Education (2005). As a policy generalist, he has published articles on school finance politics, curriculum politics, intergovernmental relations, as well as education reform policies.
John W. Gardner Legacy Oral History Project (SC1355)
Stanford University. Libraries. Department of Special Collections and University Archives


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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