A plan approved by the Chicago Board of Education in late May has been causing some controversy. But to proponents, the idea is good as it ensures students have an agenda outlined by the time they are ready to get their hands on their high school diplomas.
Chicago has become the first city in the country to require high school students to either be enrolled in a gap-year program, have a job, be enlisted in the military, or have a college acceptance letter before having access to their diplomas.
While the intentions may be well-meaning, critics suggest that the city doesn't have the means to pull this off.
Chicago Public Schools (CPS) have been struggling with financial issues since 2015, when Mayor Rahm Emanuel had issues paying teacher pensions. As Emanuel struggled to find alternative revenue sources, he found himself stuck, having to turn his back on fiscal responsibility measures that had been adopted in the 1990s.
With the new measure set to impact sophomores readying to graduate in 2020, thousands of young men and women will head to a school guidance counselor for help before they are able to meet the requirements imposed by Emanuel.
Unfortunately, counselors operating from Chicago's poorest areas are oftentimes responsible for up to 400 students each. As such, students will find themselves lacking the attention and guidance necessary to find what's best for their futures.
With CPS not having the means to hire more counselors, students may not be able to meet the new requirements, and as such, they won't have access to their high school diplomas. Without a diploma, getting into college or obtaining gainful employment become difficult tasks.
With Chicago still struggling to raise its graduation rates, many cuts had to be made last year after Emanuel found himself strapped for cash. With the implementation of this new plan, students may have even fewer incentives to graduate. After all, without a clear plan for their future, they will never even have access to their diploma anyway, so why bother?
According to Chicago Teachers Union's Karen Lewis, this plan could backfire simply because it doesn't take into account students who are stuck in limbo without access to a degree.
“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?” she 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.”
With Chicago city colleges also in the red, and scarce employment options for those without a high school diploma, many students will be forced to go into the military just to obtain their degrees. This plan leaves students with few choices, and unfortunately, the mayor seems unwilling to understand that reality.