Sunday, 14 September 2008

Getting to school: a public safety issue (part 2)

So, the Chicago Public School system starts the 08 - 09 academic year after 31 pupils, ranging in age from 7 to 18, were shot to death the year previous. A poll by the Sun-Times at the end of the 2008 school year found that a third of kids in grades 5 to 8 said their everyday movements (including going to school) were curtailed “severely” because of potential gunfire. Kids are scared, parents are scared.

The school system has other difficulties that it has been dealing with. Redistribution, overcrowding, a controversial boycott of the first week of school in the inner city to publicize a perceived poorer quality education and of facilities. Despite the fact that in-school violence is down and the rate of college applicants is up, if more kids are afraid to even go to school, where do you begin ?

Well, first off, a number of neighbourhoods set up groups like Operation Safe Passage whereby children would be escorted to and from school by adults in bright orange vests, police sometimes in tow.

The answer was not only to increase security - Chicago Public Schools already spends $55m annually on it, (some high schools spend nearly half a million dollars just on security guards !). At some point something else needed to be tried.

The Sun-Times series focussed an a number of newly reorganized so-called "turnaround schools". The paper explains that these schools are "...trying a well-established program that directly addresses kids' social and emotional needs. It teaches kids the skills some don't get at home: how to get along, how to stand in another person's shoes -- skills that research shows improve behaviour and test scores".

The schools spend a lot more money providing councillors, life skills training, mentors, anger management courses to students in the hopes that when they hit the streets after class that they will take these lessons and sessions with them. It's too soon to say what the effects on the street for this school year will be but there are some encouraging numbers.

One turnaround school that they single out is called North Lawndale High School. It still has a lot of social issues to deal with among their student body but they have a 75% graduation rate, (77% of whom go on to higher education) and a 94% attendance rate. It compared that to a nearby 'non-turnaround' high school with just a 58% graduation rate and 78% attendance rate.

Back in my post entitled Drop-outs: A Public Safety Issue http://westenddumplings.blogspot.com/2008/08/drop-outs-public-safety-issue.html I referred to a US economic study from UC Berkeley entitled “The Effect of Education on Crime: Evidence from Prison Inmates, Arrests, and Self-Reports” .Their main conclusion: that education significantly reduces criminal activity, for example: a 10% increase in graduation rates corresponds with a 20% reduction in murder and assault rates. If that is the case then the work being done could save both lives and money well beyond the footprint of the schoolyard.

Part 3: Any lessons for Winnipeg ?

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