Sunday, March 12, 2006

Situation Desperate: Chicago's Public Schools

The city closes its most violent schools, but the violent students simply set-up shop at a new hunting ground campus, thus exacerbating the problem even further:
In November, Wells High School junior Eddie Cruz was jumped and beaten bloody in a school hallway by a group of freshmen. The emergency-room bill was $4,000.

Last semester, a Hyde Park Career Academy teacher was punched in the face after he asked a student for identification.

Last month, Clemente High School parent Beatrice Rodriguez was pummeled by a group of students who were taunting her for being a "big woman."

This is the kind of violence that is troubling Chicago's public high schools -- especially those accepting students from areas where failing schools are being systematically shut down under Mayor Daley's Renaissance 2010 initiative.

Wells, Hyde Park and Clemente are among eight high schools that each received more than 150 students from the attendance areas of troubled schools now tapped for closure and eventual rebirth -- Austin, Calumet and Englewood high schools.

Since they began admitting those students in the fall of 2004, all eight schools have posted an increase in reported violence that is at least twice as high as the average for similar high schools systemwide, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis indicates.

The most dramatic example was Hyde Park, where the average number of reported violent incidents per month jumped 226 percent during that period, the analysis of CPS data showed.

In fact, Hyde Park was hit by a double-whammy, being forced to accept more than 300 students -- more students than any other receiving school -- in the past two years because two schools closed to freshmen: Englewood this school year and Calumet the year before.

Some folks say the increase in violence at receiver schools has contributed to higher teacher turnover and has worn down principals who retired unexpectedly. Students say the fighting makes school a tougher place to learn. And West Side community group leaders say they worry school closings could unintentionally lead to a higher dropout rate.

"They have opened a Pandora's box," said Khalid Johnson, lead organizer with Westside Health Authority. "[CPS officials] did not properly plan for the transition of these students.

"They are taking kids from low-performing schools outside of their neighborhood [to] areas where there are cultural differences, gang differences, and there are no supports for the students. Out of that comes increased violence, increased dropouts."

However, some of the spike may be due to better training on reporting incidents, CPS officials said.

They also see some signs of progress. The violence level is lower so far this school year than last school year in most receiving schools -- though it's still higher generally than when those schools began accepting students diverted from troubled schools.

And, they say, they've learned some lessons. Chicago Schools CEO Arne Duncan said some schools, like Hyde Park, received too many new kids, "overburdening" them. Next school year, receiving schools will probably get no more than 30 such freshmen each, he said.

"We absolutely want to reduce the number of children going to any school [in the future]. It's the right thing to do," Duncan said.

But that's little comfort to students and teachers now forced to live with what they say is a new culture of violence and its impact on education. They note that two high schools -- Englewood and Collins -- that absorbed students from failing schools in the past few years wound up closed later themselves for lousy test scores.

"I believe the violence is going to get more severe, and frankly, it's going to lead to the school being closed," said Hyde Park teacher John Kugler, the school's teachers union delegate. "We need help fast."
Consider reading the whole thing.

In my opinion, if the mandate-setters over at the United States Department of Education were really serious about "leaving no child behind," they would advocate modifications of federal laws that would allow schools to expeditiously remove these violent little thugs from mainstream classrooms or expel them from the system altogether.

No child should ever go to school in fear of his or her personal safety. Period.
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