California Educator

Why and How Not All California Charter Schools Benefit Students


In a revealing and timely package of articles, videos and research, the new edition of the CTA California Educator magazine explores why not all charter schools in the state are created equal, the for-profit agenda of many of them, and how some are hurting students and communities by bending rules to the breaking point.

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Teacher's mistreatment leaves reporter more committed than ever to unionism

I’ve had some mean bosses. Back in the days when I worked in newspapers there were a few. It was a world of deadlines, working in a pressure-cooker environment where everyone competed for space and stories and bylines at the top of the page.  I started at 6 a.m. and the only other person in my department who started that early was my boss. She was so mean that when she walked in, I usually engaged in imaginary phone conversations as she passed by to avoid having to talk to her.

But schools are supposed to be different. Schools are about nurturing, caring and a collaborative environment where staff pulls together for the common good of the students.

Right? Well sometimes.

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How do we do a Point/Counterpoint?

I was asked this question recently by the editor of the NEA affiliate in New York, and probably gave her more information than she expected. After all, it’s such a little column. It looks so easy. But looks are deceptive. Every month, we wonder if we’ll be able to pull it off, and my editor worries about having an empty page right before we go to press.

Part of the challenge: It’s extremely difficult to find people who are willing to spill their guts on controversial issues in a public forum read by 325,000 of their closest friends – along with administrators and parents lucky enough to land a copy of the California Educator. It’s a very brave undertaking to speak out publicly about whether schools should hand out condoms, cursive should be eliminated entirely from the classroom, football should be banned or test scores should be tied to evaluations.

But don’t let that stop you.

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Handling Stress, Year After Year

It was a while ago. I was working on a story on class size reduction. A chapter president had recommended I visit a teacher he knew with a crowded classroom. I arranged to visit with a photographer and asked the teacher to notify his principal, which is standard procedure. The principal in the Sacramento school came out to greet me as I was signing in and asked us to step into his office. I figured he was going to offer some background about the school and additional information.

Was I in for a surprise!

How dare I interfere with instructional minutes, he scolded me. I’d better be quick, he let me know, adding that he resented the intrusion. I explained that our purpose was to increase awareness so the state would provide more money for class-size reduction, and he called me a liar.

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The pain of interviewing

Have you ever worried about being deported?” I ask Eduardo.

He starts to cry. I freeze. Oh no, not again; I so do not want this to happen. Tears run freely down his face. I grab my pen to take notes and capture his pain as Scott clicks away on his camera. They say the media are vultures, and I like to think we’re not. But it is part of the story.

Yes I worry, says Eduardo, who is meeting for me in his counselor’s office for an interview about DREAMers, or undocumented students for an article in the April issue of the California Educator, as he recalls the traumatic day ICE took away his favorite aunt and deported her to Mexico, leaving behind three young children.

It is a fair question I have asked him, and it goes to the root of the issues faced by students lacking Social Security numbers. But I feel horrible. He is only 17. I feel especially horrible because Eduardo has an interview with a local university for a full scholarship right after our interview – and he is shaken. I do not want to be the reason he’s not accepted.

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A visit to remember

It starts like any other school visit. I pull up to the school with Scott, the Educator photographer. We are running late. We are frantically looking for visitor parking. We are trying to remember what we need to capture in words and pictures to make the story come alive during our visit to California High School in San Ramon. I check the mirror to make sure there is no food in my teeth from the cereal I’ve been eating during our commute.

And then we hear the loudspeaker. It is so loud we hear it perfectly inside our car.

“Students,” booms the voice. “We regret to tell you that four students from California High School students were killed in an automobile accident last night. Later in the day we will hold an assembly and counselors will be on hand for you to talk with.”

I start to shake. It sounds familiar; I think maybe I have heard something about this on the evening news.

“We can’t go in,” I tell Scott, who nods in agreement. “We need to cancel this visit.”

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OMG I've Been Shot

I looked down at my right arm as blood oozed through my gray sweater. My arm was stinging and tears sprang to my eyes. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me. Other people, I figured, would be the targets. Why me?

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Meet the man behind the photos

Scott BuschmanYou may have seen him at a CTA conference. He’s the tall, skinny guy with colorful ties and a camera who says “just one more, just one more” and then takes LOTS more photos. His name is Scott Buschman and he has been taking photos for the California Educator since 1996, when CTA traded a tabloid newsletter for a real magazine.


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Revisiting Mr Keener

For the December issue, I needed a teacher for Point/Counterpoint who would defend parent donations to help cash-strapped school districts. My hometown, Brisbane, had an educational foundation of which I was once president, so I asked the Brisbane Teachers Association president if someone might be willing to speak on this topic. I was delighted when she said Steve Keener would fill in – and not only because I had found someone to fill a badly needed spot in the magazine.

Mr. Keener was the fifth-grade teacher for my daughter, Nicole, 20 years ago. He was her favorite teacher. When I walked into his classroom for the first time in two decades, I was struck by how much he looked the same, except for some gray hair. (Of course, thanks to Lady Clairol, he can’t say the same for me.)

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"It's My Life" blueprint for adulthood helps at-risk students make better choices

The students reminded me of myself in high school. They were cynical. They acted out. They were what teachers considered to be “troublemakers.” Except, during the It’s My Life class, they weren’t. Instead of smirking, they were listening. They were taking time for self-reflection on their lives. They were engaged and focused on creating a better future. 

Right before my eyes, I could see these students developing into future success stories, if only they’d try just a little bit harder.

The It’s My Life class is a staple at Pacific High, a continuation school in Ventura for students who could not succeed in a regular school environment. Ventura Unified Education Association President Chip Fraser describes it as a “blueprint for adulthood” to help students make better choices. Topics include: Knowing your own potential; asking the right questions; understanding the problem and exploring potential solutions; creating a life plan; and overcoming obstacles. Fraser and former teacher Brian Jaramillo started the program in 2007 with the help of an NEA grant, and CTA’s Institute for Teaching has provided grant money over the past three years. 

Fraser says it was necessary because he saw students on a daily basis who were lacking important information to succeed in life. Someone has to provide it, he says, and it might as well be him. Good for Chip! It wasn’t easy to get this course past administrators, but he did it. He has grit: This guy once walked 500 miles to talk to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger about public school funding.

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Every child deserves a chance to learn and no child succeeds alone.

© 1999- California Teachers Association