Sunday, September 13, 2015


Harry Targ

Manufacturing Connect represents a partnership between Chicago Public Schools, local manufacturers, the Chicago Teachers’ Union, and the Austin community. Manufacturing Connect is recognized as promising practice for career pathway education and training linked to in-demand careers in manufacturing and related fields.

Purdue University President Mitch Daniels on Thursday (June 18) announced the university’s plan to open the new STEM-focused charter school in downtown Indianapolis with the possibility of eventually expanding to cities where Purdue has statewide polytechnic centers. The high school curriculum will mirror the transformed Purdue Polytechnic Institute on the West Lafayette campus and serve as a pipeline to the institute. (Purdue News, “Purdue Polytechnic High School to Provide STEM Pipeline,”  June 18, 2015).

Manufacturing Connect in Chicago

The Austin community on the west side of Chicago has experienced industrial decline for years. Once a center of manufacturing, particularly candy, it has become a deindustrialized area of urban decay. A realtor’s website (Area Vibes) estimated that in 2012 household income in the neighborhood was only $35, 847, median earnings for male residents was $28, 486, female residents $25,152. The unemployment rate was 13 per cent. Income per capita was 42.4 percent less than the Chicago average. As recently as the 1960s, the Austin community, currently about 98,000 residents, was mostly white. Now about 95 per cent of the population is African American and Latino.

Austin High School, the neighborhood’s educational anchor, was once a distinguished Chicago high school. The original high school closed in 2007 and was reconfigured as three smaller high schools in 2010.  A grassroots workers organization, Manufacturing Renaissance (MR), contracted with the Chicago Public Schools to establish an educational program at the new Austin Polytech High School. Called Manufacturing Connect (MC) the program educates local young people for skilled jobs and in college preparatory engineering and scientific fields. MC has created a program of instruction, “a career and technical education program,” that is separate from other programs offered by the new high school complex but remains under the authority of the Chicago Public Schools, its appointed principal, and teachers who are members  of the Chicago Teachers Union, Local 1.

The Manufacturing Renaissance MC program is based upon the proposition that manufacturing employment is still vital to the economies of the country and the metropolitan Chicago area. MC indicates that there is more demand for technically-trained workers, college-educated and/or skilled in trades, than high schools and universities are producing. Therefore Manufacturing Renaissance over the last decade has worked to build a coalition of partner organizations who have an interest in revitalizing public education, manufacturing, and neighborhoods such as Austin in Chicago. They believe that stimulating economic growth, and giving young people hope, requires renewed programs of education. The MC program is the first of many MR is creating in urban areas to make education relevant to twenty-first century manufacturing, communities, and youth.

Purdue Polytech in Indianapolis

Purdue University is creating a new high school program for under-served youth in the city of Indianapolis. The Purdue Polytechnic Indianapolis High School that will be open in August, 2017 represents another example of developing education to meet the needs of young people and the larger economy. Some of the features of the Purdue project parallel the Austin example but other elements are unfortunately missing.

Purdue President Mitch Daniels announced that the new STEM-focused charter school in Indianapolis will educate inner-city students in a curriculum that might lead to admission to Purdue University. “Our two basic objectives are to offer an alternative learning environment designed to better prepare students for today’s workplace and to increase significantly the unacceptably low number of Indianapolis Public School students who are qualified to succeed at Purdue.” (Purdue News, June 18, 2015).

The program is a result of collaboration between a Purdue College,  the Polytechnic Institute; the city of Indianapolis; and USA Funds, a business organized philanthropic foundation. The school start-up funds are being administered by EmployIndy, a “local workforce investment board.” Purdue faculty, primarily from the newly created Polytechnic Institute (formerly the College of Technology) will develop the curriculum. The program will involve “project-based learning focused on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics with a connection between those subjects and real-world challenges.” 

Strengths of the Manufacturing Connect Program

Both programs will bring twenty-first century educational opportunities to urban youth. However, there are several unique strengths of the MC program in terms of educational philosophy and implementation. First the Chicago program has the support, political and monetary, of Chicago manufacturers, the Chicago School Board, and the Chicago Teachers Union. As Dan Swinney (MR Director) wrote: “Austin Polytech is intentionally a public school.”

Second, Austin Polytech was conceived of as an institution that would help rebuild the neighborhood. A thriving school would anchor social networks for young people, stimulate the revitalization of local businesses, and train a work force which could return to the community. 

Third, the MC project relies on the city, the business community, and the teachers union. It regards the teaching staff as a valuable component of the educational process that can give experience and direction to educating neighborhood youth.

Fourth, the training in scientific and engineering skills is calibrated to meet the needs of industry and business in the Austin neighborhood. The MC project is based on the real employment needs of the local economy.

Finally, the MC project is based on the fundamental proposition that the United States economy  will grow or stagnate based on its adaptation to twenty-first century manufacturing. MR believes that to see the U.S. economy as a “post-industrial” economy is to misread the existing context of production and the vital necessities of any modern society. Many jobs may be occasioned by twenty-first century needs, such as developing the skills and mobilizing the resources for a green jobs agenda, but they will still require manufacturing and craft skills. Students trained at Austin Polytech will be trained to fulfill the needs of the new economy, particularly in their own community.

Manufacturing Connect is an example of a more broad-based and meaningful educational program than Purdue Polytech because MC is based on a public/ private partnership; it relies on teachers and their organizations; and it concentrates on educating youth with the hope that they will help develop and serve their communities.