October 07, 2009
The tragic and violent death of Chicago honors student Derrion Albert raced across YouTube and internet news. Just weeks after Chi Town announced a $30-million initiative to curb school violence, Albert’s death was yet another reminder that there’s much work to be done. But what about his school, Fenger High? According to teacher Deborah Lynch, there is an explanation: Fenger was a “turnaround” school, recently stripped of its faculty and staff and opened under new management. According to Lynch, turnarounds are literally the “deadliest reform of all” because “no one at Fenger this year [had] known their kids for more than three weeks.” Teachers didn’t know families and siblings, or about problems at home or other issues that might have been roiling under the surface. She makes a good point, of course--teachers do form relationships with students during the course of daily interactions with them, something that cannot be done in three weeks. And maybe those terminated teachers, despite failing in the academic realm, could have used this familiarity to spot danger before it exploded. But she goes too far when she recommends that Chicago stop spending money on teacher development and instead use it to reduce class sizes and add personnel. What a simple, unproven, and short-sighted solution to a tragic challenge.
“Safety at Fenger yields to 'reform,'” by Deborah Lynch, Chicago Sun-Times, October 2, 2009