Chicago Sun-Times
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Chicagoans protesting public school closings at Arne Duncan's Education Department

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WASHINGTON--A group of Chicagoans who are protesting closings of Chicago Public Schools are trying to prod Education Secretary Arne Duncan to intervene, appearing Tuesday at a meeting at the department here. Duncan is the former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools.

The Chicagoans making the trip were organized by the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), a South Side group and Action Now, a community organization based on the near West Side. Activists from 18 cities in all are expected to be at the afternoon meeting.

The Chicago group is using several strategies to address the closings, including raising questions over whether shuttering neighborhood schools violate the civil rights of the minority communities impacted.

"It is crucial that policymakers hear the issues, recognize the discriminatory and destabilizing impact these closings and turnarounds have brought about and take immediate steps to put a moratorium on school closings to stop the divestment in our youth," the Rev. Krista Alston, a KOCO leader said in a statement.

An Education Department spokesman told me Monday Duncan is expected to stop by the meeting and that federal options to prevent local school closings were limited.

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To say that the federal government is limited in what they can do to stop school closings does not ring true, and is akin to throwing rocks and hiding your hand. Policies like "Race to the Top" and others reward school districts that rapidly expand charter schools. Given the reduction in population of many urban school districts, you can't rapidly expand charter schools without massive closures of public schools. The President's current education policies, combined with the Gates compact, have made the environment ripe for massive school closures on the ground. We have never seen massive school closures prior to the Obama Administration and Secretary Duncan. Unfortunately, the President's national policies are Daley's Renaissance 2010 on steroids.

Additionally, the Department of They have significant funding for school turnarounds that goes to school districts and into the pockets of private turnaround organizations and charter school networks rather than have districts perform turnarounds themselves. If school district leaders don't have the competence to turn schools around internally, there's a good chance they should not be running school districts. Unfortunately, the federal government's policies help create an environment that encourages school closings.

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