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Davis Pushes Summer Training for Teachers

Education: Recent recruits in grade schools would be taught, with UC and Cal State systems running the effort.

November 25, 1998|KENNETH R. WEISS and RICHARD LEE COLVIN | TIMES EDUCATION WRITERS

In the first concrete indication of Gray Davis' plans to improve public education, the governor-elect is pushing a proposal to have the state's universities run a massive "summer school" program aimed at improving the skills of the state's new grade-school teachers.

The program, as outlined Tuesday at Davis' request by University of California President Richard C. Atkinson, would be the state's largest supplemental teacher-training program since the Soviet-launched Sputnik satellite inspired a national movement in the 1960s to improve science and math instruction.

Atkinson presented the idea at the opening meeting of the task force of educators and business leaders assembled by Davis to brainstorm ideas for education reform that he can present to a special session of the Legislature in January.

"There would be 25 centers around the state that could handle 6,000 teachers for two-week sessions," Atkinson said in an interview. "They would be focused on bringing teachers up to speed" on reading and math teaching.

The plan is to begin the intensive training camps this summer for about half of the new teachers in kindergarten through grade six. Master teachers would then reinforce the training in monthly follow-up visits with less experienced colleagues, using lesson plans and other information put together by university faculty and disseminated via the Internet.

Barry Munitz, chairman of Davis' transition team, said the incoming governor "likes the idea" of using the expertise of the University of California and California State University for summer training camps for teachers. The plan is in the conceptual stage, and a draft of the initiative did not specify a cost.

Davis attended the task force's first gathering Tuesday, a five-hour, closed-door meeting in Los Angeles that surveyed the realm of possibilities in his three-pronged approach to school reform: improve teaching, make schools more accountable and have all schoolchildren reading proficiently by age 9.

Emerging from the meeting, Davis told reporters that he and his 13-member panel had a full discussion about teacher preparation and other ideas for reform, but he declined to give many details or reveal which ideas he favors.

Yet, he said, "there was a consensus that California is not doing a good job on teacher preparation."

The group agreed that the state needs to focus on training teachers to use phonics in reading instruction, particularly those who were taught the "whole language" approach, which has dominated teacher preparation courses in the past 15 years.

Davis also underscored a growing recognition among higher education leaders that they must be partners in the drive for public school reform.

As lieutenant governor, Davis was a Cal State trustee and a UC regent. Because of that experience, he said, "I am determined to find ways to make sure higher education can help improve K-12 education."

"Education is my first, second and third priority," Davis said. "My legacy will be lifting reading scores and higher performance of everyone involved."

Emphasizing his politically moderate course, Davis said he is "not going to be a governor who throws money at problems." Instead, he will try to increase expectations of students and their parents, insisting that they share in the responsibility of improving test scores.

Davis said that he would like to pay graduate students to be mentors for schoolchildren who do not have adequate support at home and that he thinks public schools should employ more reading specialists.

The improvement of teacher training has taken on urgency, as the class-size reduction program in the past two years has put more than 12,000 teachers into classrooms before they have completed the course work necessary for a full credential.

Setting up training centers for teachers is not new, of course. Partnerships among the state Department of Education, the Cal State system and UC already provide training directly to 6,000 teachers and indirectly to 60,000--or about one of every four teachers now working in schools.

Known collectively as the subject-matter projects, the $18-million program trains teachers in history, science and writing as well as math and reading.

The proposal is to expand the projects with a specific focus on elementary school reading and math. UC would take the lead role, but the effort would also include Cal State campuses as well as private colleges.

"It makes perfect sense to use us," said Cecil Morris, who heads the Reading and Literature Project for the Sacramento region, based at Cal State Sacramento. "It's an extensive network that draws on the expertise of some of the best teachers in the state, who have kept up with the university research and have adapted that research into classroom practices that work."

A number of states have launched intensive summer training institutes to improve reading instruction.

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