School & District Management

Is Youth Violence in Chicago Worse Because of School Closures?

By Catherine Gewertz — October 08, 2009 1 min read
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That’s the question circulating now. (See the Associated Press and
National Public Radio for examples. Also, lots of good coverage in the Sun-Times.)

Some parents and activists in Chicago are saying that tension escalated among some students at Christian Fenger Academy High School after a nearby school was closed, funneling those resentful students to Fenger. Near Fenger, you recall, is where 16-year-old Derrion Albert was beaten to death in a youth melee recently. President Obama was so concerned by this and other recent teen violence in the Windy City that he dispatched his secretary of education and attorney general to visit and consult on solutions with folks there. (Some of the parents and community activists were pretty peeved that the big guns didn’t meet with them.)

The question about school closures, though, is much larger than the one affecting Fenger High, and it isn’t new, either. The program that is driving the closures, Renaissance 2010, began under Arne Duncan, who is now Obama’s education secretary, but was then chief of Chicago’s schools.

(Duncan dismissed as “ridiculous” the notion that the initiative, nicknamed Ren-10, has anything to do with increasing youth violence in Chicago. But to some, there is an obvious connection. Chicago blogger Mike Klonsky says that sending Duncan back to Chicago to deal with school violence from the closures is sorta like sending an arsonist back to the scene of a fire.)

While the initiative’s aim is to close dysfunctional schools and replace them with better ones—delivering educational justice to some of the city’s poorest kids—it has also been widely criticized for the disruptive effect the closures have on students and families. (The plan hasn’t been able to make all of its turnarounds into successes, either.)

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School Connections blog.