Michael Kirst Stepping Down as President of California State Board

By Alyson Klein — May 10, 2018 2 min read
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Michael Kirst will be stepping down from his job as president of the California School Board when Gov. Jerry Brown’s tenure is over, Kirst announced this week.

Kirst, who is an emeritus professor education and business administration at Stanford University, was first appointed to the state board back in 1975, during Brown’s first term as the Golden State governor. He has advised Brown on education policy for 44 years.

“Governor Brown and I have enjoyed a unique and rare working relationship,” Brown said in a statement. “We’ll have a new governor in 2019, and I will not share that same relationship with him or her. I couldn’t unless we had somehow met in 1974 and begun working together then.”

Kirst said that Brown’s last two terms, from 2007 to the present, have been the most productive. “California has accomplished a major overhaul of public education, from funding to standards to assessment, accountability, and capacity-building. It’s really remarkable, and it’s the result of several factors falling into place all the right time,” Kirst said in the statement.

Kirst is the mastermind behind California’s local control funding formula, which went into effect in 2013 and was intended to give local officials more freedom to spend based on their own communities’ needs as well as to address inequities. Districts with foster students, low-income students, and English-language learners were given more money than others, and school officials are now required to show that they engaged community members in making budgetary decisions.

He was also a key collaborator and champion of the Golden State’s new color-coded dashboard system that rates schools on a variety of factors, but doesn’t give them an overall score, like an A or an F.

Kirst, a Democrat, worked on implementation of the original version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in 1965, as an aide in the federal Office of Education&mdsash;part of what was then the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

Decades later, as a state board president in California, he was known for clashing with the Obama administration on teacher evaluation through student outcomes and other issues. He recalls that President Barack Obama’s first education secretary, Arne Duncan, came to the state and chastised Brown for not jumping on board with performance reviews that rely on test scores.

“We had fundamental differences on how to proceed,” Kirst said in an interview. “There was always tension.”

Kirst isn’t retiring. “I still will be active in education policy,” he said in the interview, although he wasn’t specific about his next steps.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.