Sweeping Reforms Ahead, Says New Education Board Member

January 06, 2011

Stanford professor Michael Kirst returns to the board at a time of budget crisis and needed changes

Reforms to school spending and curricula are among the top policy issues the newly appointed state Board of Education will tackle, according to a leading educator named to the board this week.

Michael W. Kirst
Professor Emeritus, Stanford University

Newly appointed state Board of Education member Michael Kirst, an emeritus professor of business administration and education at Stanford University, who served on the state board during Gov. Jerry Brown's first administration, said in a phone interview that he is gearing up for a busy three-year term. Among his top priorities: shifting the way schools are allowed to spend their money and overhauling the state's student testing system.

Schools with high-achieving students could be released from state mandates related to instructional time, for example, allowing them to focus on student outcomes. If students are scoring well in English, but not math, for example, schools would then have the latitude to beef up instructional time in that area.

"Schools need flexibility as their finances are cut," Kirst said. "As the money shrinks, they may say, 'we really need another math class,' instead of complying with a state mandate."

Another fundamental policy area that needs attention, Kirst said, is statewide standardized tests.

A total of 40 states, including California, have adopted a so-called common core curriculum, which aligns K-12 curricula with requirements for entry to colleges and universities. But California still has some work to do to streamline its statewide assessments to better prepare K-12 students for college, Kirst said.

"When we adopted these standards in 2000, we didn't really talk with colleges and universities," he said. "We're going to have to move away from strictly multiple choice questions to more assessments that require students to apply their knowledge."

The new tests would require students to think critically and to memorize course work and concepts and then apply them on these new statewide tests.

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