A team of outside evaluators had high praise for the Charter School of Education at California State University, Los Angeles, when it delivered its independent evaluation of the school in a written report on February 23.
The team was representing The Evaluation Center of Western Michigan University, which had been selected last year on a competitive basis to conduct an independent assessment of the school.
In their report the evaluators said the school had produced "remarkable progress" in the short time that it had been in existence. Although the school has had its charter status since l993, the first two years were devoted to planning, with the full program implemented in 1995.
While the evaluators noted that the school was still a "work in progress," they suggested that its operational arrangement could be a model for other schools of education.
In the report the evaluators said they found the school to be committed and dedicated to a mission "that is not only correct for this school, but likely most appropriate for many others across the country."
Charter schools are not uncommon in public school districts as a means of experimenting with education reform. However, the Charter School of Education is the first university institution in California and the nation to be awarded that status.
Dr. Barry Munitz, former chancellor of the California State University system, granted the charter for a five-year period, which ends in June unless extended.
A charter school is able to operate free of certain institutional and state regulatory constraints. In the case of the Charter School of Education, this freedom has allowed it to test alternative solutions toward education reform with schools in neighboring school districts
The evaluation team came to the campus this past November, armed with a set of questions, all focusing on how well the school was achieving the goals it established.
In addition to reviewing scores of documents, the team interviewed nearly 150 individuals, including faculty members of the Charter School of Education and other schools on the University campus, students, graduates and administrators from neighboring school districts.
In their report the evaluators called the school's internal decision-making process "remarkable." They cited the positive approach of allowing both faculty and non-faculty members to have equal voices in determining the direction of the school. They noted that this helped promote a degree of cooperation among the different units within the school.
The evaluators also pointed to two innovations within the school that could lead to a way of solving the credentialed teacher shortage: The Model Teacher Education Program and the Urban Learning Major. Both programs allow students to obtain B.A. degrees, along with preliminary teaching credentials, within four years instead of the traditional five.
The evaluators called attention to what they called future challenges. They noted that charter status, allowing freedom to experiment and exemption from certain accepted University procedures, placed the school in a "fishbowl."
This environment, they wrote, makes the school a target of close interest and possible criticism by other educators. Because of this, the evaluators suggested strongly that clearer communications be established with other schools on the university campus, current Charter School students and graduates of the school.
The report also said it was important that the successes as well as the failures of the Charter School of Education be shared with similar schools in the state and the nation that might be contemplating charter status.
Jerry G. Horn, principal research associate of The Evaluation Center, headed the evaluation team. Others on the team were Gary Miron, also a principal research associate with the Center; Mary Harris, dean and professor, College of Education and Human Development, University of North Dakota; and Kenneth McKinley, professor, College of Education, Oklahoma State University.
The full, unedited text of the report is available on the Charter School of Education's Web Site: www.calstatela.edu/academic/csoe/. Click on "Ext. Eval. Report."
Public Affairs Offices/Campus News