Chicago's new requirement for high school graduation won't work

It’s no secret that Chicago Public Schools are struggling. These challenges have damaged countless lives as access to a good education is hard to find in the Windy City. Schools are underfunded and students there often face unspeakable challenges in their personal lives as well. Quite simply, the problems facing families within the CPS system have numerous disadvantages they shouldn’t have to face.

Something obviously needs to be done. But Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new plan to force students to have a set plan after graduation is not it. Under this new idea, a student will have to have a set plan after graduation before they can receive their diploma. Acceptable plans for after graduation include college, entering the workforce or the military. There is undeniable truth to the fact that today’s youth struggles in the job market. Employment opportunities are limited and often go to those who have experienced many advantages in life. The mayor is not wrong to want more for Chicago’s students than a high school diploma. However, this new requirement will only work if students are given the means to achieve these goals. Specifically, this would create a need for individualized career counseling in the CPS system. Of course, if such resources were available then the school system wouldn’t be in its current, fragile state where talented and inspirational  teachers and counselors are already overworked. This can also force students to make rash decisions about their future because they simply want their diploma. Making such major life choices at a young age can undoubtedly affect a person for the rest of their life. This takes time, but students won’t necessarily have it under this new plan.

Emanuel said there will be a system in place to ensure all students are given the help they need to meet the standards of the plan, but it’s frankly very hard to see that being achieved. The mayor seems to truly believe this will work despite the many flaws in the plan.

“I cannot in good conscience as a mayor allow the other 40% to not have a plan that the economy will require of them later in life,” Emanuel said. “Will achieving this require more of us? Yes, of course. But as a parent I would never leave it to chance that my kids have a plan post-high school, and as mayor I refuse the notion that the future of any child in this city should be treated any differently.”

It seems that the mayor believes his intentions are good, but he’s missing a few key perspectives. This plan also completely minimizes the true accomplishment of graduating from high school. Many students struggle to pass their classes and face the reality of failing. The stress of their actual course load is already too much for them to handle in addition to whatever may be going on in their personal life. Once this plan officially becomes a requirement in 2020, students that struggle to pass their classes and work hard to succeed may still be banned from receiving a diploma. This will disincentivize school for many and only make them feel less adequate to those around them. Emanuel seems to be assuming that passing classes in high school is easy, which isn’t true for some. A lofty additional requirement could easily push the already low graduation rate down further.

CPS needs extra help, but this plan is not it. Their schools need the necessary funding to provide a quality education to all young Chicagoans. The disparity in resources at schools across the state of Illinois is deep and only getting worse. Mayor Emanuel may be trying to right the wrongs, but this won’t likely do the trick.





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