- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 8, 2009

CHICAGO (AP) | Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday it is ridiculous to suggest that an ambitious plan to improve education in Chicago contributed to a surge in violence among students.

Mr. Duncan, along with Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., was in Chicago to meet with school officials, parents and students to discuss youth violence in the wake of the vicious beating of a 16-year-old high school student whose Sept. 24 after-school death was captured on a cell phone video.

“Chicago won’t be defined by this incident but rather our response to it,” Mr. Duncan said. “I am committed to this fight, I am committed to this cause.”

Mr. Duncan, who as the former head of Chicago Public Schools helped implemented the district’s improvement plan, told reporters that it is easy to point fingers but the country needs to focus its attention instead on the root of the problem.

Since 2005, dozens of Chicago’s public schools have been closed and thousands of students reassigned to campuses outside their neighborhoods - and often across gang lines - as part of Renaissance 2010. While the plan has resulted in replacing failing and low-enrollment schools with charter schools and smaller campuses, it has also led to a spike in violence that has increasingly turned deadly, many activists, parents and students say.

Before the 2006 school year, an average of 10 to 15 public school students were fatally shot each year. That soared to 24 deadly shootings in the 2006-07 school year, 23 deaths and 211 shootings in the 2007-08 school year, and 34 deaths and 290 shootings last school year.

Few deaths have occurred on school grounds, but activists say it’s no coincidence that violence spiked after the school closures.

Derrion Albert, an honor roll student at Christian Fenger Academy High School, was attacked when he got caught up in a mob of teens about six blocks from school on the city’s South Side. Video shows him curled up on the sidewalk, as fellow teens kick him and hit him with splintered railroad ties. So far, four teens have been charged in his death.

Mr. Duncan says Fenger would receive $500,000 in federal money to help it stabilize after the violence. The school can use the money for counselors and other programs.

Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley also said Wednesday that the high-profile involvement of the Obama administration isn’t “show and tell” but a genuine commitment to address youth violence.

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