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National CrossTalk Summer 1999
News Editorial Other Voices Interview

Teaching Teachers to Teach
Calstate TEACH program borrows from British Open University

Long Beach, California

  Carol P. Barnes
  Carol P. Barnes, professor of teacher education at California State University, Fullerton, coordinated efforts to create a curriculum for "CalstateTEACH."
THE SHADOW of the British Open University, but not much of the substance, hovers over a new California State University program intended to provide permanent teaching credentials for some of the 14,000 California elementary school teachers who now have only emergency authorizations to teach.

No Open University course materials will be used in the awkwardly named "CalstateTEACH" program, which starts this fall and seeks to advance up to 1,000 teachers from emergency to permanent status in 18 months. But many Open University methods will be employed, including tutors, intensive course planning by teams of specialists, and a student-centered approach.

California faces a severe shortage of teachers in the primary grades (first, second and third) because of an aging teacher population, rapidly rising enrollments and class size reductions that were initiated by former Governor Pete Wilson and have been continued by the state's current governor, Gray Davis.

The shortage is especially acute in the low-income neighborhoods of the state's largest cities. About 4,600 teachers in the huge Los Angeles Unified School District alone are teaching with emergency credentials, which means they hold bachelor's degrees and have passed a teacher literacy test but probably have had little or no classroom experience. Some are excellent teachers but others, one Cal State education professor said, "haven't a clue what they're doing."

One Los Angeles school is staffed entirely by teachers holding emergency credentials.

Cal State officials thought part of the problem could be solved by transplanting the Open University's teacher certification program, which has trained about ten percent of Great Britain's teachers, to California.

Cal State Chancellor Charles B. Reed asked former Governor Wilson for $5 million to implement the program over a three-year period. Wilson agreed but insisted that it be done in one year, so planning began at a furious pace last summer.

After reviewing Open University course materials -- textbooks, audio and video tapes and CD-ROMs -- a task force of 50 Cal State faculty members decided the materials were not adequate.

"They liked the approach but there was a feeling the materials were culturally limited," said Charles Lindahl, associate vice chancellor for academic affairs and point man for CalstateTEACH.

"The video materials didn't reflect California's racial diversity," said Carol P. Barnes, professor of teacher education at Cal State Fullerton, who was a member of the group that reviewed the Open University curriculum. "We would be sending the message to teachers that this approach would work only with whites."

Nor did the materials meet California standards for teaching English and mathematics, Barnes added, and "they were not at all high tech," which was a problem because CalstateTEACH plans on heavy use of the Internet to communicate with students.

"[Chancellor Reed's] initial expectation was that we would be able to use a lot of the British Open University materials, and he was annoyed that the faculty did not agree," Barnes said. "He kept after us and finally I said, ‘Charlie, the British have a very different interpretation of the Revolutionary War than we do.'"

Other sources said Cal State faculty members resisted using materials developed by others -- the same "not invented here" syndrome that the Open University encountered when it tried to sell course materials to Florida State University.

Whatever the reason, the Open University curriculum was discarded and a group of about 30 Cal State faculty members, divided into four teams, designed a set of new courses. Most participants came from the system's education schools but the teams also included professors from other academic fields.

"It was an incredible group of faculty," Barnes said. "They made a commitment I haven't seen before at CSU."

The course of study they devised is daunting -- 38 semester hours, in four phases, over a period of 18 months. The materials include 14 textbooks, audio and video tapes, CD-ROMs and a lot of information that will be transmitted through the program's Web site. The cost will be $1,142 for each of the four phases.

Students will be expected to do nine to 12 hours of work on their own each week, in addition to their regular classroom duties. "My biggest fear is attrition," Barnes said. "This is a very rigorous program that requires a lot of personal drive."

The plan is to enroll 550 students this fall but as many as 1,000 could be accommodated if the demand is heavy.

Although Open University course materials have been rejected, many other features of the British approach have been adopted.

All students will have tutors, called "Learning Support Faculty" (LSF) -- one for every 18 to 20 students. The LSFs will monitor student progress, making sure they take required tests and turn in papers. They also will be checking on the student's performance with his or her pupils in the classroom.

"The LSFs will be the front line," Charles Lindahl said. "They are there to do whatever it takes to move that student along, whether face to face or through the Internet."

The hope is that the Learning Support Faculty will be full-time Cal State professors, but that probably won't be the case, at least initially.

"I think it's really important to hire CSU faculty for these jobs," said Jodi Servatius, a professor of educational leadership at Cal State Hayward and director of CalstateTEACH. "We want the CSU imprimatur on this product." But realistically, Servatius added, "we probably will have to fill in with retired principals or master teachers."

Some faculty members predicted the program will fail, because well qualified professors will be unwilling to join an untested program that requires a two-year commitment.

So far, only ten or 12 LSF have been hired because Cal State officials do not expect to know how many students have signed up for CalstateTEACH until the first week in September, when schools learn how many teachers with emergency credentials will be on their staff. However, Servatius said those hired so far are "very well qualified."

There also will be "adjunct site faculty" -- experienced teachers at the schools where those enrolled in CalstateTEACH are working, to help the student-teachers with day-to-day problems.

Twenty Cal State campuses (all are participating except San Diego State and the California Maritime Academy) have been divided into five regional centers, on the British model. The director of each center will supervise the LSFs and adjunct site faculty in that region.

"The Open University concept has been very important," Jodi Servatius said. "The large ideas survived but most of the details did not."

-- William Trombley

Photo by Axel Koester, BlackStar, for CrossTalk

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