Linking truancy, delinquency and crime

Chicago Public Schools

My colleague Gary Marx and I chase stories of injustice. Back in November, we published an investigation revealing a crisis in the Chicago Public Schools: Roughly 32,000 K-8 graders miss at least four weeks of school per year, and many vanish from the classrooms altogether, according to the city's internal attendance data.

The pattern of missed elementary school days is especially crushing for African-American youth, and costs the district millions in  funding keyed to attendance.

State legislators and Chicago school authorities immediately vowed to carry out reforms.

Our latest installment on Feb. 19 underscores the cost of doing nothing.

For this part of the project, we examined the school records of youth sent to state juvenile prisons and to Cook County's delinquency court, and found a surprising number had disappeared from school in the fourth grade or soon after. Many become foot soldiers in the city's violent street gangs. A heartbreaking litany of cases involved 14- and 15-year-old street corner heroin dealers.

Absence from school in the earliest grades was typically a warning sign, the records and interviews showed -- a harbinger of criminal misconduct that can destroy young lives and burden society with the costs of gun violence, welfare and prison.

-- David Jackson

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Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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