Graduation is something students look forward to as a celebration of years of educational labor and the various stresses that come with that.
According to the Washington Post, Chicago public high school students will have more work to look forward to if they want to graduate thanks to a new plan from Mayor Rahm Emanuel.
Recently approved by the Board of Education, Emanuel's plan mandates high school students to show that they’ve either secured a job or have been accepted into college, a gap year program, a trade apprenticeship or the military before they are allowed to graduate.
The Board's approval of the measure makes Chicago Public Schools the first big-city system to make having post-graduation plans a requirement.
“We are going to help kids have a plan, because they’re going to need it to succeed,” said the Chicago mayor. “You cannot have kids think that 12th grade is done.”
The mayor said this step was necessary due to societal changes. “I know what’s not good for kids is allowing them to go into a job market and the rest of their lives with a high school diploma when everything tells you that they need more than that.”
Ambitious and thoughtful in theory, sure. But skeptics and critics question whether this plan is well thought-out enough to be effective.
Will there be enough funds available to provide the necessary counseling and mentoring in order to truly prepare students for such a requirement? The system may stress the importance of success for these students, but will they help them get there?
“We never had that conversation about life after high school,” she said Morgan Park High School senior Jermiya Mitchell. “I would like to have a counselor that really wanted to know what I wanted to do after high school and would help me get there.”
Mitchell isn't alone in feeling that her counselor didn't really make an effort with her. Counselor Victor Ochoa finds himself frustrated with the help he is able to give his 400 students. On top of all of the children he's responsible for, he has a bevy of other duties that include recruitment, standardized testing and registration.
Ochoa says with all he has to do, and with the overwhelming number of students he is supposed to counsel, he can't give a level of aid that is in any way helpful. "We end up band-aiding," he said.
Further complicating matters is the fact that Chicago Public Schools is short on cash. The system had to lay off 1,000 teachers in 2016, and was barely able to fund the last few weeks of this school year. How the cash strapped system would fund the mayor's plan isn't clear.
“It sounds good on paper, but the problem is that when you’ve cut the number of counselors in schools, when you’ve cut the kind of services that kids need, who is going to do this work?” Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis and sworn enemy of Emanuel asked. “If you’ve done the work to earn a diploma, then you should get a diploma. Because if you don’t, you are forcing kids into more poverty.”
That speaks to critics biggest fear: if a student doesn’t secure any of the required post-high school ventures before their senior year is up, will their diploma be withheld?
Chicago Public Schools Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said that things won’t come to that, as principals, counselors and teachers to step in and guide the student toward having some sort of concrete plan. How Jackson knows this for sure, she did not reveal.
Chicago public high school students who make up the Class of 2020 will serve as the test-case for the new initiative, so we'll have to wait until then to see how new requirement pans out.