Sabotage and destruction of Austin High School began ten years ago, in June 2004. And now, in June 2014, the verdict is surely in... Destroying Austin High School in favor of charter schools and small schools thingies is a complete failure...

Question: If 71 percent of the students in a "school" in Chicago are "chronically truant" according to the Board of Education's own data sets, can anyone claim that that school is a success? No matter how many stories appear in the newspapers because of the rabid self-promotions of a school's leaders, what more can be said about the school? How many celebrity endorsers does a school get to keep it in play even though by every measure, it continues failing?

Obviously in a sane world, the school has failed somehow. How about two "schools" in one building, both with truancy rates about 70 percent?

Yet in two of the small schools currently occupying space in one of the largest high school buildings in the United States, the results, according to CPS "data", are all bad. Truancy is a major problem. Test scores remain so low that if the "schools" were on anyone's target (instead of being kept off by clout), they would be considered for so-called "turnaround." And yet ten years after all this began, Austin High School still remains unavailable to the general public, and the entities inhabiting is cavernous halls continue despite...

No matter how much clout behind the so-called "Austin Entrepreneurship Academy" and "Austin Polytechnical High School", both are among the worst in Chicago by most metrics. And since both were created replacing one of the largest high schools in the city in one of the largest buildings in the public school system, the question remains why the Chicago Board of Education continues to pretend that the huge spaces inside the Austin High School building at 221 N. Pine St. are being well utilized.

But the story is much more complex, and much more filled with 21st Century Chicago style corruption, than just attendance data. The destruction of the "old" Austin High School and its replacement by a handful of tiny schools, while the building was treated to more than $30 million in rehabilitation, could serve as a microcosm of what's been wrong with corporate "school reform" in Chicago since Bill Clinton's presidency ended and the presidency of George W. Bush began. The corruption just continued under Barack Obama.

So a ten-year history is necessary.

Ten years ago, over the objections of virtually all community leaders and against the wishes of the Chicago Teachers Union, the Chicago Board of Education began the slow destruction of one of Chicago's legendary high schools. By a Board vote at its June 2004 meeting, Austin was stopped from receiving 9th graders. Supposedly, the delay was to help Austin solve a "gang problem" because, supposedly again, the school was becoming supposedly "out of control" because of the activities of the Vice Lords, Four-Corner Hustlers, and Disciples (mostly GDs) in and around the school.

What took place instead of a reduction in gang violence in and around the West Side school was the reduction of Austin High School to an empty building. What then followed, as some of us predicted (I was director of Security and Safety for the Chicago Teachers Union at the time and argued that the gang problem could be solved with proper administration and consistent law enforcement) took place. In 2005 and 2006, the Board of Education again "froze" the 9th graders entering Austin, until the building was virtually empty.

At the June 2004 hearings on the proposal to stop Austin from admitting 9th graders, every witness (including this reporter, who helped organize the opposition) testified against the program. Some of the students who testified turned out on graduation day to defend their school. The witnesses against stopping the school from getting 9th graders included teachers, parents, alumni -- and even the craven Rev. Louis Flowers, who had routinely done the bidding of the Board of Education, the mayor, and then Board President Michael Scott.


June 23, 2014 at 11:58 AM

By: Rod Estvan

re: Austin Polytech small school

It is my understanding that among the Founding Partners of Austin Polytech was the Chicago Teachers Union, the Center for Labor & Community Research, and the Chicago Federation of Labor. In my opinion Austin Polytechs original design team was extremely liberal as these things go, but I agree with Substance that over all it has been a failure for most students.

I think it isnt that the ideas behind Austin Polytech werent of the very best intentions, or that the school has not linked with over 60 local manufacturing companies, the problem is possibly more profound than that.

Part of the theory behind Austin Polytech was a very nice idea that deindustrialization in Chicago could be reversed. This theory can be seen in a paper written by Dan Swinney titled Building the Bridge to the High Road (2000) [ ].

Part of the presumption of Austin Polytech was that with National Institute for Metalworking Skills (NIMS)certification students would all get high paying jobs and a relatively high percentage of Polytech students would get the NIMS certification.

In 2013 according to a Polytech newsletter there were only 30 graduating seniors, there was absolutely no discussion of how many of these graduate got actual jobs in industry, but the article did state this:

Most (graduates) earned NIMS credentials and participated in job shadows and internships. Most graduates are planning to start their careers by attending college full-time, like Valedictorian Quan Trimble who will attend U of I Urbana/Champaign. Other graduates are choosing to start their career with full-time employment with one of APA's manufacturing company partners and part-time at a local community college; like William Cocroft who just had a promising interview with an APA Partner company and is planning on enrolling at Daley College where his three NIMS credentials will count as credit towards an Associates degree.

My reading of this comment is not even all of the 30 graduates were NIMS certified and that not one of those that were certified had an actual job offer with one of the manufacturing company partners at the time of graduation. These results are not exactly a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow for these students. Why?

There may be complex factors involved in this and one factor that simply cant be ignored is the massive use of fully computerized machining. Todays machinists with the use of computerization and robotics can do the work of four similar workers back in the 1960s. Overall according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics employment of machinists and tool and die makers is projected to grow 7 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is slower than the average for all occupations. The median hourly pay in 2012 was only $19.67.

There are other problems for the relatively few Polytech graduates linked to their own poverty, most do not have the ability to get access to a car to get to suburban manufacturing sites, and some may not be willing to totally uproot and move to another state where there are more entry level machinist jobs for relatively low wages.

Rod Estvan

June 24, 2014 at 10:50 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Austin Poly and destroying voc ed in real schools

Despite the relentless hype, Chicago's public schools over decades provided students with vocational training (both in the voc and tech schools and even in the general high schools) long before "Austin Polytech" squirted the inky murk into the debate over public schools about "manufacturing" training. When I was at Prosser a long time ago, the various shops -- and there were dozens of them -- were producing "career ready" 18 year olds to go into "manufacturing" and other careers without undermining the rest of the city or helping the privatizers replace one of the largest general high schools in the USA.

Not surprisingly, the entire edifice of propaganda surrounding "Austin Polytech" has collapsed. It was never meant to do the job of educating kids in the Austin community, but was one of the many murky smokescreens behind which Arne Duncan could operate while he systematically destroyed real vocational and technical education in Chicago's public schools and privatized as much of those programs -- using non-union workers -- as he could get away with. It is not a coincidence that the launching and praising of "Austin Polytech" took place during the years when Marilyn Stewart and her cronies were milking the last dollars they could out of the finances of the Chicago Teachers Union. The destruction of real (and useful) voc ed programs across Chicago was taking place with virtually no protests from the CTU officers.

Where, as Rod and others know, a high school student (after the 1970s, male or female) would get a "college ready" education at Lane Tech, Lindblom, Simeon, Prosser or a dozen other voc schools, byt the early 21st Century, those shops had been destroyed one by one by one. It was behind the same bullshit smokescreen still operating today: "college and career readiness..." as if that mantra was a substitute for an actual bunch of classes, taught by union teachers with massive amounts of vocational experience. And the purveyors of "Austin Polytech" were as responsible for the marketing cliches and lies of the 21st Century that Arne Duncan took national when the Obama myth took over.

For decades, under hundreds of real teachers and dozens of various administrators, Chicago kids could become "career ready" in the shops of Chicago's real public schools. The onslaught of cliche versus reality is exemplified by the entire Austin structure today:

-- no real general public high school for the children of Chicago's largest community

-- an "entrepreneurship high school" (charter school; anti union) that collapsed within a year after it was started but remains -- to this day seven years later! -- because of the clout of one of its founding partners... and so-called "American Quality Schools"...

-- a second tiny small schools charter thingy that has never been able to articulate a reality for the kids of the community surrounding it...

-- and Austin Polytech, which has received more free publicity based on its relentless announcements (and its name?) than on any measurable realities...

Behind those murky smokescreens, Chicago has gotten away with destroying more shop classes and programs across America's third largest city than "Austin Polytech" manages to graduate students supposedly certified in some vague way for some possibly non-existent "manufacturing" jobs...

Only in Chicago. And this one isn't even all on Rahm Emanuel and his teacher bashing, union busting team.

June 27, 2014 at 1:44 PM

By: Susan Hickey

Austin High School

I remember when CPS decided to close Austin High School, my alma mater, how devastated I was. Here was a school that was founded in 1890 when Austin was not part of the city of Chicago and had many graduates that went on to make Chicago and the country a better place. It was a great NEIGHBORHOOD school; where a totally diverse group of learners can be housed in the same school. There were honor students (they were not siphoned off to go to 'selective enrollment' schools) along with those students that would go on to learn a trade (remember distributive education). When I was a student, Austin neighborhood had well to do families but a great number of blue collar working families . Many of us who went on to university, come from the latter group, including me. Not all my siblings went further but then there was no edict that 'every student should go on to college and they managed to do okay.

Austin High School was a place that I was proud to say I graduated from and there was no reason that it or many of the other neighborhood high schools be closed or be shadows of what they could be.

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