THE GROWING number of schools that the School District of Philadelphia has handed over to charter operators is sad. The district's "failing" school pronouncements beg some questions: Why are so many urban schools deemed failing? What are the largest urban education issues? How does the district paradigm address the specific urban issues? Without those answers, the handoff to "charter businesses" is academic gambling, financially fraudulent and morally vacant.
Even with a myopic focus on test scores, there is still no charter operator clearly delivering higher scores at a sustainable investment cost. I submit that the coveted scores cannot be dependably delivered, even with more money, new paint, some computers and more aggressive use of teaching-faculty labor.
It's time for all to see what the families and teachers see in neighborhood schools like Steel and Munoz Marin: The charter "emperor has no clothes."
The "begged questions" are equally relevant in the scenario that Philadelphia achieves the goals of dependable, fair funding and/or "local control." What would we do to change the paradigm when we're in charge?
Even those who think of education as "business" agree on what comes first: Successful businesses get successful by understanding and serving the customer first. Success requires a fresh look at the research data and latest science about our customers.
First, the public-health research is clear: There is a staggering issue of childhood trauma. Childhood trauma includes heinous events and overwhelmed children from violence, abuse (physical, emotional, sexual) or neglect, or household dysfunctions endured by children, such as addictions, parent separation, divorce, incarceration and early death. They are known as "ACEs," adverse childhood experiences. ACEs lead to social defenses and personal behaviors that beget illness, reduce productivity and end in early death.
Further, unresolved ACEs are often generational. Parents of trauma-impacted children often are dealing with their own trauma injuries.
Assigning blame does not help. The trauma-impacted children still come through school doors the next morning - children who have a right to an equal education.
Groundbreaking research by Kaiser and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that ACEs are especially alarming when enduring three, four or more ACE categories of events. The statistical prevalence in their 17,000-person study showed a staggering 22 percent with three or more ACE categories.
The smaller ACEs study in Philadelphia found 37 percent of students with four or more ACE categories. In North Philly, the scale of childhood trauma is more than double the average with 45 percent experiencing four or more categories.
It is difficult to absorb. It is the elephant in the room that most of the "failing" schools given away to charter operators are in Philadelphia ZIP codes with a four-plus ACEs rate of 30 percent or higher. Are they failing schools or do we have a failing paradigm?
Massive rates of childhood trauma should connect explicitly to our education paradigm.
Science is clear. Trauma connects to education like a laser via toxic stress effects on brain development. Traumatic stress varies production of hormones in the brain, especially cortisol and adrenaline. Under traumatic stress, the brain naturally shifts into survival mode, "Flight, Fight or Freeze," which mutes cognitive function. When children live in an unresolved chronic, traumatic state of "survival," there is a "new normal." Development of cognitive functions is injured. These injuries relate to academic processes, especially crucial "executive function," memory and literacy. The process also leads kids to distorted perceptions of social cues, which alter behaviors in response. These children are 30 to 50 percent of district students - tens of thousands across Philadelphia.
Traumatized children then affect others in the classroom with high rates of defensive hypervigilance, aggression, violence, "acting out," "zoning out," mistrust and opposition. We can't separate the child's relentless trauma-heavy load from the relentless academic process.
Childhood trauma is absent as the explicit, crucial keystone of our urban education paradigm. We will not have a successful education paradigm, or even accurately interpret "success," while ignoring its massive presence.
It would be like getting a new owner for the Phillies, all new uniforms, new equipment and a refurbished field, while eight to 12 players (30 to 50 percent) were each dealing with four injuries: shoulder, knee, rib and ankle. Inconceivable!