Monday, January 14, 2013

An end to hand-wringing on violence. Stop school closings!

"It is staggering. This continues to haunt me." -- Arne Duncan
Michell McNeil's EdWeek piece, "Chicago Years Inform Ed. Secretary's Views on Gun Violence", portrays Ed Sec. Arne Duncan as a man deeply and personally affected by the Newtown shootings as well as by the epidemic of gun violence sweeping his hometown of Chicago. And knowing Arne, I'm sure he is.
As schools chief in Chicago from 2001 to 2008, he was affected by the gun deaths of a 10-year-old on the eve of her first day of 4th grade, a 16-year-old boy shot in a city bus on his way home from school, and an 18-year-old honor student killed outside his high school, among others. And growing up, he was surrounded by violence on Chicago's South Side.
In this interview with PBS's Gwen Ifill Arne tears up as he puts responsibility for action lies on "all of us."

I'm glad that Arne has reportedly taken on a major role in the administration's push for passage of some "reasonable" gun-control legislation, which I hope turns out to be more than a symbolic or empty gesture.

But I'm also glad that McNeil made a point of showing Arne's support, both in Chicago and nationally, for many of the very policies that have intensified the problem and by most accounts have helped increase the number of young victims of gun violence. Those policies are first and foremost, mass school closings and so-called turnarounds which Duncan has mandated under his Race To The Top reforms. During his term in Chicago, he helped initiate these same unsuccessful "reforms" locally as part of the Paul Vallas regime and later his own.

Writes McNeil:
Yet at the same time, one school policy Mr. Duncan pushed was criticized by those suggesting it made the off-campus violence even worse. He enacted an aggressive school turnaround policy during his tenure in Chicago—which would later become a template for new models under the federal School Improvement Grant turnaround program—that led to many school closures. Critics blamed those closures for not only causing upheaval in students' lives, but also throwing them into new schools that often crossed gang boundaries.
Back in 2007, he was warned that his school closing policies would send thousands of students, unprotected across rival gang territories and into ill-prepared receiving schools that were no better than the ones they had left. The closings further destabilized the city's most poorly-served black and Latino communities and became the targets, as they still are, for mass protests by parent and community groups.

While the string of Duncan successors under Rahm Emanuel's regime continue to pursue his mass closing and turnaround policies, the resistance has continued to grow. The death of Fenger High School student Darrion Albert in 2009, shed more light on the city's ill-considered school policies. But still they continued to be enforced.

This past week, the mayor's own rump Commission on School Utilization issued its Interim Report which called for a halt to high school closings. According to the Commission:
The safety and security of Chicago’s kids has to be a primary concern in deciding upon any school consolidations. But threats to student safety by intermixing students from different neighborhoods are greatest for high school students, and the risk of a violent incident would be magnified. Additionally, high school students need the greatest stability at this time in their lives, and the relocation to a new school creates a dangerous discontinuity in their schooling. So with gang boundaries sometimes shifting on an almost weekly basis, and barring extreme circumstances, it is simply too risky to ask high-school-age kids to cross gang lines just to travel to and from school. (p. 14)
I'm sure that like Arne and like all of us, Rahm and CEO Byrd-Bennett, are deeply saddened by the massacre at Newtown and by the record levels of gun violence in Chicago. But calls for new gun-control laws, while important and necessary are not nearly enough to quell the violence. It's time to put an end to Race To The Top and its mandated closing of thousands of urban schools and put a moratorium on all Chicago school closings.

Enough hand wringing.


  1. Can we repost this in our community newspaper, the Lafayette Independent?

  2. I agree completely that a moratorium on school closings must happen now. But this must go hand in hand with a moratorium on the opening of any new Charter schools. They are funded by public money, drain money and students from the public schools that are so-called "underutilized" while not being held to any kind of public accountability. You cant talk about moratoriums without including a moratorium on more charter openings. A two-pronged approach is necessary. Otherwise it is pointless.


Agree? Disagree? Let me hear from you.