The Rush to Charters Ignores Real Issue


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 in Philadelphia, PA, schools like Steel and Munoz Marin: The charter “emperor has no clothes.”

Each of the “begged questions” above 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 (with “local control”)?

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. Two of every three children are impacted at some level.  Developmental 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 change physical brain architecture,  lead to social defenses and personal behaviors that beget injury and  illness, reduce productivity and end in early death. Yes, early death.

Center for Disease Control
Center for Disease Control

The seminal CDC/KaiserPermanente research found the number of children with three, four or more  ACEs to be 22%.   And their study was fielded in beautiful suburban San Diego, among  middle class, mostly white, college educated, working folks with medical insurance!       In other words,  there are more ACE-impacted kids than English Language Learners (ELL) and more than those with Individual Education Plans (IEP). We accommodate and fund support for ELL and IEP students.  In some urban schools (page 17 map HERE) the number of ACE-impacted students is greater than ELLs and IEPs combined .  The U.S. Department of Justice (in 2012 !) identified childhood trauma as a national epidemic. The Surgeon General described it as a health crisis of the highest priority (back in 1979 !).

Three or more ACEs is significant because experiencing 3 or more ACEs correlates with doubled risk of depression, adolescent pregnancy, lung disease, and liver disease. It triples the risk of alcoholism and STDs.  There is a 5X increase in attempted suicide.  Remember, this was a study in the suburbs.   Has childhood trauma been addressed in your school ?

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 of equal access to education. We don’t need blaming, we need training and strategies and resources to deliver equal access to all children.

In our city, Philadelphia, most of the “failing” schools given away to charter operators are in ZIP codes with a 4+ ACEs rate of 30 percent or higher.  Are they failing schools or do we have a failing paradigm?  Philadelphia ACE prevalence by zip code map CLICK HERE (pg.17).

It is difficult to absorb; stunning. Yet, It is the elephant in the room.

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 traumatic state of “survival,” there is a “new normal” with altered neurobiology.   Developmental Trauma changes architecture of the physical brain.  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 our one city of 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.

Developmental 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 ignoring the fact that eight to 12 players (30 to 50 percent) were each dealing with three or more injuries: shoulder, knee, rib and ankle. Inconceivable!



Nowhere to Hide: The Elephant in the [Class]Room,

Failing Schools or Failing Paradigm? 

Translate This: It’s NOT about learning  ,

or check out the Index to LucidWitness HERE,   for many more links and citations.

Photo © Daun Kauffman
Photo © Daun Kauffman

Edited version at, HERE. 

and HERE

or HERE .



7 thoughts on “The Rush to Charters Ignores Real Issue”

    1. Rick:

      A counter example presented more completely:

      All is not what it seems at “Success Academy”.

      The first questions would be whether Wall Street Hedge Fund managers would actually be able to expand the financial model of the Moskowitz “Success” charters (including free space inside ‘public schools’).

      Then there are more central academic questions about representativeness of the neighborhoods and selective retention of preferred students (over a period of time). Class sizes drop radically during testing years to control scores, if that is your measure of success.

      Finally see the second post (Linked below) for student demeanor and tolerance for the process..



  1. Great site and appreciated. See NYC’s Success Charter in the news for it’s “Got To Go” list of students. Strategies of “push out” (or “counsel away”) are sadly not usual even when this extreme, especially for students with disabilities or suspected disabilities. What’s not so common is to discover a list (i.e., smoking gun). I’m weary of the support charters continue to draw while magically allowed to float above those pesky ideals we call civil rights and public education.

    Liked by 1 person

Comment here (Really, please).

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s