Education

School Choice: It’s Common Sense? Installment 3- Nomenclature

Johnston High School, in Austin, Texas was the first school in the state to be closed (rather than reconstituted) by the Texas Education Agency (TEA).  The high-stakes accountability defined by No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was after all incubated in Texas under then Governor Bush.  Senate Bill 618, passed in 2003, which codified school reconstitution for schools failing to meet the mark two years in a row.  The bill aligned with NCLB, the 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and signaled an end to local control; 135 schools in Texas were reconstituted in the ensuing decade (Cumpton, 2015).  The closure of Johnston in 2008 and subsequent repurposing as Eastside Memorial High School at the Johnston Campus is an opportunity to witness the intersection of market-based reforms, racial identity, community history, gentrification, community organizing, and educational decision making.  The confluence of macro political and economic forces cannot be ignored when examining the intersection of public school policy and private interests due to their impact in shaping individual and organizational perspectives (Kamat, 2004 p. 156).

History:

In 1959 Riverside High School opened to serve the graduates of East Austin’s predominately Hispanic Alan Junior High.  A year later the school would be renamed after Albert Sydney Johnston, a soldier in the Republic of Texas, United States, and Confederate armies (Bearden, 2011).  Austin, like many urban centers, began to experience white flight following Brown v. Board in 1954.  Despite the Justice Department’s approval of a desegregation plan for Austin in 1955, it was not until after a 1971 U.S. District Court Judge’s ruling that Austin ISD was forced to implement bussing (Cuban, 2010).

Neighborhood schools’ attendance boundaries were redrawn to allow for two-way bussing. Previously the closure of the historically African American Anderson High School placed the burden of bussing and integration on the East Austin community (Cuban, 2010, Interview 5, 6, 9, 11, & 13).  Following District Court Judge Jack Roberts ruling to implement a three tiered approach to desegregation which included two-way bussing, affirmative-action hiring processes, and bilingual education, the federal government provided 3.4 million dollars in emergency aid for the district (Reinhold, 1983).

The 1980’s were a time of significant change for Johnston High School due in large part to judicial and state bolstered financial intervention.  Johnston became a nationally recognized model of school desegregation as its demographics shifted from 99% Hispanic and African American to 50% White, 30% Hispanic, and 20% African American, a population more reflective of Austin’s overall racial composition, and reduced the number of students below grade level in math from 90% to 52% (Garcia, Yang, & Agorin, 1983 p. 95).  President Ronald Reagan even cited a Time Magazine article featuring Johnston, as a model of community investment without the interference of the federal government in transforming the community, apparently not recognizing the federal judicial and financial interventions which were instrumental in bringing about the change (Reinhold, 1983).

Increased funding for the school allowed for investment in renovations, technology, and expanded course offerings.   This change in trajectory though was short lived.  Austin was absolved from its federally mandated desegregation in 1983 and formally ended bussing in 1987 returning to neighborhood schools and the de facto segregation and lasting impact of restrictive covenant, residential housing patterns, and the bisection of the city by Interstate 35 (Cuban, 2010).[1]

In Austin, magnet schools of “choice” were an attempt to attract white, middle-class families to the Eastside schools through tracked prestigious academic and arts academies insulated from the comprehensive neighborhood schools within which they were collocated (Cuban, 2010).  The LBJ Science Academy opened in 1985 and Johnston would be home to the Liberal Arts Academy starting in 1987 when two way bussing was discontinued to prevent another round of white flight.

Johnston did maintain its vocational programs and magnet status which built on a community tradition in providing vocational education for a predominately Mexican-American and Chicano community (Interview 7, 15, 19).  However with ever increasing emphasis on achievement scores, enrollment and graduation rates continued to decline, and by the late 1990’s Johnston saw a thirty percent spike in already inflated teacher turnover (Reeves, 2007).  The subsequent decision by the district to relocate the magnet arts academy to LBJ high school in 2002 only served to exacerbate already tenuous circumstances.  The parallel histories of school choice, at the local and national levels, indicate the interconnectedness of education policy from the top down.  Therefore, interruption or resistance to these types of reforms indicate that there is also a potential to influence policy from the bottom up, setting the stage for Pride of the Eastside.

-To be continued.

 

[1] For more information on Austin’s mixed history of progressivism and discrimination see Eliot Tretter’s work: Austin Restricted http://projects.statesman.com/documents/?doc=1499065-austin-restricted-draft-final

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