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LOS ANGELES TIMES INTERVIEW

Charles B. Reed

On Educating a Better Teacher at the Cal State University

June 28, 1998|Kenneth R. Weiss | Kenneth R. Weiss covers higher education for The Times

When Charles B. Reed became chancellor of the California State University in March, he figured his top priority would be preparing the 22-campus system for a tidal wave of students expected to enroll in the next decade.

That was before he sized up the troubled state of California public schools. Now, his No. 1 objective is to improve the training of public school teachers.

It was, perhaps, a natural evolution of thinking for the head of the nation's largest university system. As he puts it, "If we want to improve the public schools, we're going to have to improve the universities because that is where all the teachers come from."

Indeed, Cal State campuses churn out about 60% of California's teachers. And Reed himself has long been interested in the topic. In the early 1970s, he helped run a performance-based teacher education project under the auspices of the American Assn. of Colleges for Teacher Education.

He later moved to Florida where he worked his way up the rungs of state government ultimately to become chancellor of Florida's State universities. He presided over that 10-campus system for nearly a dozen years until Cal State's trustees lured him West to take a bigger job.

So Reed, 56, rises at 5 a.m. every day--an hour earlier than he did in Florida--to throw himself into his work. His friends say he is remarkably consistent: always charging forward like he did as a high school quarterback from a Pennsylvania steel mill town. His grit and determination won the state championship for his team. And, for him, a football scholarship to George Washington University.

In his few months on the job, he has visited 15 Cal State campuses and spends at least one day a week in Sacramento hunkered down with state lawmakers, the governor or education officials.

His wife, Catherine, stayed behind in Florida to arrange for the movers, who arrived in California early this month. In the interim, Reed "camped" in the chancellor's mansion in Long Beach, eating with plastic utensils, sleeping in the guest room because the master bedroom has no furniture. His wife has teased him ever since she caught him rinsing out a foam cup. The couple has two grown children.

Sitting in his equally sparse office at Cal State headquarters in Long Beach, Reed spoke recently about the challenges facing the university and public education.

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Question: Your office has just released another set of alarming statistics on remedial instruction: 80% of African-Americans who come to Cal State need remedial work in math, 64% need remedial work in English. For Latinos it was 71% in math, 65% for remedial English. What does this say about the state of public education in California?

Answer: What it means is that we have got to focus on mathematics and English skills from the very beginning. Preschool programs must get students ready so they can come to school prepared to learn. I'm convinced that the foundation and those basics are extremely important. That is a responsibility that has to be shared by the parents, shared by the public schools and shared, frankly, by the universities in California.

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Q: So what can Cal State do to hold up its part of the bargain?

A: There are several things that Cal State can do. Most important is to better prepare teachers to work with culturally diverse students. Two, prepare many more teachers. I have said that we're going to move from training 12,000 teachers annually to 15,000 in the next 18 months. Three, be more focused. California's leadership has talked about these new standards in math and reading. But the focus has to be on teaching mathematics, teaching reading and writing.

All students need to take algebra no later than in the eighth grade and then take geometry and algebra II so they can achieve the state mathematics standards.

I don't understand why we quit teaching reading about the fifth or sixth grade. We have to teach reading all the way through high school. And in teaching reading, we have to teach writing. And the only way that I know that you learn to write is by writing.

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Q: You mentioned training more teachers. Where will you find enough bodies to cover the coming shortage?

A: We're going to put on a massive effort to recruit people with baccalaureate degrees who are being downsized by corporations, military personnel who are being phased out and looking for second careers, just general housewives who want to start a career after raising a family. I'm even interested in recruiting teachers from other states. Pennsylvania overproduces 15,000 teachers a year. If we could just get 10% of them to come to California, we'll start to make a difference.

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Q: But with class-size reductions, we're talking about the state needing 300,000 new teachers in the next decade.

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