Tribute to the Life of NAEd Member Mike Smith

May 8, 2023

We were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mike Smith on May 1, 2023. Please find below a lovely tribute to his life and career, written by Fritz Edelstein.

Marshall S. [Mike] Smith
September 16, 1937- May 1, 2023

After a battle with cancer, Mike Smith passed away at home early on May 1, 2023. He was an influential figure in American education and social policy for over six decades.

He was a mentor, teacher, leader, and friend in every sense of the word as he moved back and forth between roles in government, Academia, and philanthropy. His leadership style was deeply personal as well as informal, believing that ideas, particularly actionable ones, were more important than appearances. Mike held important positions in several federal administrations, served as a professor and dean at research universities, and worked in philanthropy. In each domain, he worked relentlessly to increase educational opportunities and outcomes for historically underserved students by means of policies and practices that focused on systemic reform, equality, and useful data.

Mike was a loving family man whose pride in and commitment to his family was evident to all those around him. He is survived by Nicki, his wife of 59 years, their four children Adam (Elizabeth), Jennifer (Kevin), Matthew (Carolina) and Megan (Matthew); six grandchildren Emma (Thomas), Mira, Zoey, Isadora, Elena, Lucas, one great grandchild, River, and was predeceased by a beloved grandson, Samuel.

Mike coached each of his children’s soccer teams and was a sounding board for all manner of life’s challenges for family and friends – giving support with school, work, relationships, or when to get to the airport.

He authored and co-authored books and articles on a wide range of educational topics and issues including equal education opportunity, education standards, accountability, and professional development. Smith held academic positions as Associate Professor at Harvard; full professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison and directed the Wisconsin Center for Education Research; and professor and Dean of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education.

At the federal level, Mike was Director of Policy and Budget at the National Institute of Education under President Ford; Assistant Commissioner for Policy at the U.S. Office of Education and then as Chief of Staff for the first Secretary of Education during the Carter Administration; and spent seven years in the Clinton Administration as Under Secretary of Education and acting Deputy Secretary of Education. He helped author Goals 2000; Improving America’s Schools Act; and the School-to-Work Opportunities Act. From 2001 to 2009, he served as the Hewlett Foundation’s head of education programs and, among other things, with his team developed the Open Education Initiative, which provides worldwide access to high quality learning.

Mike was an elected member of the National Academy of Education and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He was also active in the American Educational Research Association, a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.

Mike received his BA from Harvard College in 1960, and his EdD in Measurement and Statistics in 1970 from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

Mike’s family requests that donations in Mike’s honor be made to education or environmental groups of the donor’s choice.

-Written by Fritz Edelstein

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