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Charter Status Studied for College

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Cal State Northridge’s College of Education is considering whether to become a charter college, a change that would make it the second such institution in the country after Cal State L.A., where administrators are touting the success of their own experiment.

As a charter school, the College of Education would be allowed to write its own rules and be exempt from some current regulations governing Cal State University schools, a novelty that administrators hope will streamline the process of training thousands of new teachers to help accommodate the state’s class-size reduction initiative.

“We are facing many challenges in the way we prepare teachers for the classroom,” said Dean Carolyn Ellner. “We have to adopt ways that allow us to think outside the box.

“This proposal may be no more than a motivator,” Ellner said, emphasizing that faculty and administrators are only exploring the possibility of becoming a charter college. “We may find that we can do everything that we would like to do . . . through existing methods, but it gives us permission to think in a different way.”

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Cal State Northridge President Blenda J. Wilson is in the process of convening a group to study the matter, Ellner said. The proposal won the approval of CSU Chancellor Barry Munitz last year, before he left to join the Getty Center. Munitz said in a letter to Wilson that such status would “better respond to the needs of the educational community and . . . provide leadership in professional reform efforts.”

Unlike the situation with elementary and secondary charter schools in California, which must follow a legal framework established by legislators in 1992, there are no such guidelines for charter colleges.

Proponents envision a charter college where creative new teacher training programs are quickly launched to meet changing education needs, where public school teachers and university professors work together to improve student achievement and where the process of training thousands of new teachers is more efficient.

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But exactly how the charter college would be formed, and how the program would operate, has yet to be worked out by Wilson’s study group, said Associate Dean Crystal Gips.

The charter college concept grew out of Cal State Northridge’s plans to help prepare about 22,000 untrained teachers across the state who are working with emergency credentials in order to implement Gov. Pete Wilson’s class-size reduction initiative for students in kindergarten through third grade. Additionally, an estimated 300,000 new teachers must be trained to meet an anticipated increase in the state’s school-age population in the next century.

Cal State L.A.'s School of Education became the first charter college in the nation in 1995 for the same reasons tempting its counterpart in Northridge: greater creativity in preparing teachers for the classroom, a shortening of the time it takes to get new teachers into needy classrooms and exemptions from certain system regulations, school officials said.

At Cal State L.A., after receiving permission from then-Chancellor Munitz in 1993, a committee spent two years reviewing everything from the school’s educational philosophy to its operating budget.

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Today, the Charter School of Education’s revamped operations have resulted in several changes, said Dean Allen A. Mori, who led the overhaul of the school’s structure:

* A streamlined, interdisciplinary approach enables undergraduates to earn their bachelor’s degrees and teaching credentials in four years instead of five.

* New programs get off the ground in a matter of months instead of years because of fewer regulations.

* Innovative programs have attracted financial support from corporate and private sources. In addition, although the college still receives its funding from the Cal State system, it has more flexibility over how to spend it.

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Some things have remained the same. For example, reformers did not renegotiate union contracts.

The National Council of Accreditation of Teacher Education granted the charter school full accreditation after a review last year, Mori said. Although the school received the same high marks in 1991, before it became a charter college, Mori said, the council recently instituted stricter standards for accreditation.

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Enrollment has grown from 2,299 students during the 1993-94 school year, the year before the charter college began, to 3,226 students in 1996-97, a 40% increase, according to the latest figures available, school officials said. The school is second at Cal State L.A. only to the School of Business in student enrollment and degrees awarded.

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“We are receiving greater freedom, but we are also being held to a higher standard,” Mori said. “It is our responsibility to prepare people for the challenges of working in urban classrooms in Los Angeles.”

At the Northridge campus, the College of Education’s 71 full-time faculty members will have the final say about whether to become a charter school, said Ellner, the dean.

After President Wilson selects a committee to study the proposal, the panel will collect recommendations from faculty, administrators, union officials, community leaders and others, Ellner said. If the plan is put to a vote, she said, it would probably take place late in the 1998-99 academic year.

“We realize that we depend on the other colleges on campus and that we can’t stand alone,” Ellner said. “We can’t just secede and drift off into the distance. We must work cooperatively.”

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