New high school test scores show failure of Chicago's 'small schools' and charterization program... Austin 'entrepreneurship' charter school is a disaster as measured by PSAE scores

Data quietly released by the Illinois State Board of Education in September 2009 but not yet publicized in Chicago show that two of the most widely utilized programs of the administration of Arne Duncan — small schools and the replacement of general high schools with charter high schools inside the same building — are failures. After the Board voted to close Austin High School (231 N. Pine St. on Chicago's west side) beginning in September 2004, "small schools" (including two charter schools, V.O.I.S.E. and Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy) were placed inside the huge Austin building. Between September 2004 and June 2008, Austin ceased to exist after 100 years of service to the community as a general high school, replaced by the Austin "campus" which included the "small schools" listed on the Austin sign above (photographed most recently for Substance in July 2009). The first test score data on the "business" school are now available from the State of Illinois, showing that scores at the new school are even lower than the scores were at the general high school it replaced. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The failure, as measured by the scores students achieved in the majority of those schools on the 2009 Prairie State Achievement Examinations (PSAE) has been available to the public for a few weeks, but has achieved no public attention.

According to the report entitled "PSAE Over Time by School, 2001 - 2009", the "Austin Business and Entrepreneurship High School," which has been located inside the Austin building for the past four years, had a composite PSAE score of 5.5. Two other "small schools" located inside the Austin High School building ("Austin Polytechnic" and "V.O.I.S.E") have not had students long enough for the tests to be reported.

The Austin situation is not unique. According to the report, compiled by the Chicago Board of Education's Office of Research, Evaluation, and Accountability, 15 "high schools" in the Chicago Public Schools scored lower than Austin Business and Entrepreneurship in the test, which was give in May 2009.

According to the CPS report, there were 111 "high schools" in Chicago at the time of the PSAE tests. A problem arises, however, because of the manner in which CPS now designates entities as "high schools." When Arne Duncan took over the school system in July 2001, there were fewer than 80 high schools in Chicago. Most them the were traditional kinds of high schools that most Americans think of when they hear the term "high school." Of the 111 "high schools" listed by Chicago in the most recent testing data, at least 21 had fewer than 200 students tested. The majority of those "schools" were created between 2001 and 2008 by Arne Duncan's administration based on dubious research, almost no transparency, but with fierce political clout.

How to get more and more 'high schools' with fewer high school age students

If there were two themes about Chicago's high schools during the Duncan years, they were "change" and "failure."

According to Duncan and the city's media, the city's general high schools had "failed" and needed to be subjected to "change." No attempt was made to determine how much of the so-called "failure" grew out of condition beyond the control of principals, students and teachers who were living and working in areas that contained some of the most extreme poverty and vicious drug gangs anywhere in the world. Instead, the official narrative was narrowed down to a massive scapegoating of public school teachers, and the "failure" was blamed on them.

Once the backdrop of "failure" became a shrill chorus against which every discussion of high schools in Chicago was measured, the claim that any "change" was an improvement became a chant of the city's rulers. Thus, the allegations of "failure" (with or without proof in the context of political, social and economic realities) were a necessary part of the dialectic that leads inevitably to an official embrace of even the goofiest — or at least most implausible — prescriptions for officially sanctioned and all-important "change."

Duncan has since taken those same themes national in his programs as U.S. Secretary of Education. It's a rare public appearance when Duncan doesn't repeat, like a mantra, some variation on one of the two themes he pioneered in Chicago: teacher bashing accusations of "failure" and the desperate need for "change" as if change were a virtue in and of itself. Supposedly, the American public high school (like its Chicago counterpart) has "failed" to provide students with the skills necessary for competition in the global economy.

The massive expansion of public expense for more "high schools" in Chicago following the appointment of Arne Duncan as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Chicago's public schools in July 2001 came through three main programs, along with a handful of smaller ones.

The three main programs were: charter schools; small schools; and military high schools.

The largest of these was the charter school program. Chicago's charter schools most often took public school building away from traditional public schools and gave the buildings (either for free or at the lowest possible rent) to charter school operators. By 2009, six Chicago high schools had been closed, according to most reports for "academic failure." These were Austin High School, Calumet High School, Collins High School, Englewood High School, Harper High School, and Orr High School. All but two of those buildings is now occupied by a charter school (in whole or in part; in two cases the charter school operates within the building alongside another school). In no case where the Board of Education destroyed an existing high school during the Duncan years did Duncan's proposal have any supporter from parents or students in the existing school. Support came from a hodge-podge of community activists and political people, often with ties to Mayor Richard M. Daley's Democratic Party machine. The "Transition Advisory Committees" that were created by the Office of New School were often composed of local political hacks along with a hodge podge of CPS officials, all organized to present the appearance of diversity while toeing a party line.

Small schools failure

Another major program promoted by Arne Duncan, especially during his first years in office, was "small schools." According to the "small schools" guidelines still in place at the Chicago Board of Education, a large high school was broken into what were supposedly autonomous "high schools" within an existing building. The most widely watched "small schools" experiments in Chicago's high schools were at Bowen High School, South Shore High School, and Orr High School. Each of those schools was broken into three or four "small schools", each with its own principal and administration. The extra cost was part of what was supposed to work as a radical experiment, but the money never resulted in lower class sizes or improvements at the classroom level. In each school, the competing principals then had to be managed by a "campus manager" to settle turf disputes. As a result, the small schools projects created another layer of administrative bureaucracy (and patronage) within the system, and CPS wound up with more and more principals while the number of classroom teachers was decreasing.

By 2007, Duncan admitted the failure of small schools without saying so publicly. That year, he recommended that Orr High School, which had been broken up into four "small schools," be reconstituted in what CPS was then calling "turnaround". The majority of teachers who had tried to make the Orr "small schools" experiment work were dumped when Orr was reconstituted, this time as a large general high school, in so-called "turnaround." Teachers were not the only ones dumped for "turnaround." During the opening months of school in September 2008, Orr eliminated hundreds of students — usually the lowest scoring or most challenging from a disciplinary point of view.

Orr is now being operated by the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), which began running the newly consolidated Orr High School in September 2008. By early 2009, the Orr "turnaround" (which was barely halfway into its first year) was being cited by The New York Times and the Obama administration as a model for urban school reform.

Militarizing the high schools

The final significant "high school" expansion program under Anre Duncan and "Renaissance 2010" was the expansion of military high schools. Under this program, the United States military actually operates a public high school jointly with the Chicago Board of Education. By September 2009, Chicago had six military high schools; three operated in conjunction with the United States Army, and one each by the Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps.

All of the massive experiments in changing Chicago high schools came against a backdrop of media propaganda that declared that "high schools" had "failed" and had to be re-engineered.

Sabotage of Chicago's traditional high schools

During the same period that Arne Duncan was leading the nation in destroying traditional urban high schools based on a number of experimental models, community leaders, teachers, and activists slowly documented a process by means of which the city's remaining general high schools were sabotaged by the Duncan administration through the withdrawal of funds and such policies as "short staffing" under which schools did not receive the correct number of teachers for their year until October or even November. At each point, with the cooperation of Chicago's corporate media, the "failure" of the city's traditional public schools was trumpeted, while the alternatives promoted at great expense by Arne Duncan were either promoted without critical examination or simply ignored while they were assumed to be an improvement over the general high schools which had been slandered as "failures."

When is a "high school" a high school thingy instead?

Above, former Illinois State Schools Supt. Michael Bakalis (at microphone, grey suit) appeared before the Chicago Board of Education at the Board's monthly meeting on October 24, 2007. Bakalis, whose entrepreneurial employer is a group called "American Quality Schools," had been operating the Austin Business and Entrepreneurial High School" as a charter school inside the Austin High School building for two years by that time. Bakalis told the Board, which include Board President Michael Scott, that his school was facing a problem, insofar as most of the 9th graders who arrived at the school were unable to read, write or do math at 9th grade level. Bakalis and the Board did not ask to investigate how those students could have completed 8th grade in Chicago under the Board's strict promotion policy. Instead, Bakalis said that his group, American Quality Schools, was asking CPS to grant it more charters so that it could operate elementary feeder schools into his "Business and Entrepreneurship" high school. Substance photo by George N. Schmidt.The reason why "high schools" is going to be place in quotation marks for the purposes of this report and analysis by Substance is that Chicago no longer has a functional definition of a "high school," the proliferation of "high schools" under the Scott and Duncan administrations between 2001 and 2009 has been a national example of dysfunction. Several of what Substance has been calling "high school thingies" in Chicago re not listed in any Chicago public schools directory, while a number of them are listed at addresses that are not the same as the location where the "high school" presently meets. A number of them are not listed in the Board of Education's 2009 - 2010 budget, which was approved without discussion or debate at the Board's meeting of August 26, 2009.

Michael J. Bakalis: Educational Entrepreneur, Chicago Style

After his failed attempt to win the Democratic Party nomination for governor in early 2002 (in a four-way race that included Rod Blagojevich, Roland Burrus, and Paul Vallas), Michael J. Bakalis returned to education, only this time as a highly paid executive and newly minted "education entrepreneur."

Despite the record of failure for the Austin charter school, Chicago has been giving more and more money and power to the group that operates Austin Business and Entreprenuership; American Quality Schools (AQS). AQS is headed by Michael J. Bakalis, a power in Illinois politics who once served as Illinois Schools Superintendent and was also at one time a candidate for governor. According to the AQS Web site (September 21, 2009):

"Dr. Michael J. Bakalis is founder, President and Chief Executive Officer of American Quality Schools. He also serves on the faculty of the Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University, where he teaches in the field of public and not-for-profit management and policy and in the area of management and strategy. Bakalis' administrative experience has been in government and higher education. He has served as Illinois State Superintendent of Education and as Illinois State Comptroller. President Carter appointed him Deputy Undersecretary of Education in the U.S. Department of Education where he administered ten regional office of the department across the United States. He has also held positions as Dean of the School of Education at Loyola University and President of Triton College."

As of September 2009, the Chicago Board of Education had approved American Quality Schools to run seven charter schools, one of which is Austin Business and Entrepreneurship. 

Final edited version of this article posted at September 23, 2009, 2:00 a.m. CDT. If you choose to reproduce this article in whole or in part, or any of the graphical material included with it, please give full credit to SubstanceNews as follows: Copyright © 2009 Substance, Inc., Please provide Substance with a copy of any reproductions of this material and we will let you know our terms — or you can take out a subscription to Substance (see red button to the right) and make a donation. We are asking all of our readers to either subscribe to the print edition of Substance (a bargain at $16 per year) or make a donation. Both options are available on the right side of our Home Page. For further information, feel free to call us at our office at 773-725-7502.


September 21, 2009 at 8:20 PM

By: will the small school austin principal stay?

austin hs

Word is from PM Ronnie's point of view, the principals of this school should be removed now! Yes, now. There is VERY low enrollment at the school as well. This principal has his Hyde Park connections -- being placed in South Shore hs by Arne himself. Then, when he could not handle South Shore anymore, he got Arne to put him at Austin. Time will tell

tic toc tic toc.

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