New York City public high school students recently dodged a policy bullet that just struck Chicago’s public schools. According to the Washington Post,
To graduate from a public high school in Chicago, students will soon have to meet a new and unusual requirement: They must show that they’ve secured a job or received a letter of acceptance to college, a trade apprenticeship, a gap year program or the military.
As is the case with much educational policy that’s been coming down the pike over the past decade, this newly-adopted graduation policy sounds like a trap into which students who attend poor, understaffed schools will fall. The policy succeeds in raising more questions in my mind than it does in answering the pre-existing questions and concerns I already have about our schools in America. For starters, didn’t Chicago Public Schools (CPS) just have teachers strike for several weeks a few years ago? Didn’t CPS also recently lay off hundreds of teachers? Who is going to execute this policy’s tall order? Why is more strain being put on an already over-burdened school-system?
The policy may be borne from the best of intentions, but that’s just how the pathway to hell is paved. Many a student’s life has been damaged by well-meaning educational policies that failed to take into account the gamut of factors that comprise who they are and how well or not they fare during those critical high school years.
Inherently, this policy is flawed in that it only seeks to track students during their first year after high school, not throughout the two to four years that are required to determine whether or not a student is able to sustain him or herself throughout college graduation or completion of a prescribed program. Doing so would rightly ascertain whether or not a student was truly college-and-career-ready upon his/her graduation from high school. Is this not the goal of this policy?
What about students who successfully make it through their first year of college and then drop out? Or those who don’t go to college in the two months immediately following high school graduation, but after some much needed soul-searching and maturing end up finding their niche and becoming successful later on? How does this mandated stipulation keep students who graduate from public schools off the welfare line at their local social services office or out of the entry-level interview seat at their neighborhood McDonald’s?
A plan devised on a piece of paper or a laptop does not begin to scratch the surface of empowering our most vulnerable students to be educationally and financially stable.
Comments from a Facebook thread of teachers, parents, students, and constituents of the city of Chicago about the new policy raise excellent points about Mayor Emanuel Rahm’s seemingly premature acceptance and enactment of this educational policy that is scheduled to go into effect with the Class of 2020. Actual names of commenters have been replaced with their initials to protect their anonymity.
“I see the merit in this, but the reality is that cps has cut resources, human capital, and planning time. Sorry, Rahm, piling on an already strained work force will result in more failure. What is YOUR plan? Until you have said plan that includes the necessary resources , you need to table this.” – M.K.V.
“I had plans and changed them and look back to see I’m not doing what I thought. I think it is crazy to put that kind of pressure on a kid. This is when they should be trying all kinds of things.” – N.L.
“Didn’t Obama’s eldest daughter say she was taking a year off to travel? I mean…that wouldn’t be allowed, right? Which is ridiculous!!!!! If a kid needs a year off to figure things out…” – J.R.
“If he really wants to help high school students ask some of his rich buddies to create apprenticeships for them.” – G.F.
I personally see glimmers of merit in this policy. Let’s face it: In life, no matter the goal, it is imperative that one has a plan. That is what I see as the driving force behind this policy. But in order to implement it, CPS is going to have to hire more guidance counselors and support staff. There is no way around that. From my own experience, guidance counselors are very hard to come by. I know of many high schools that either don’t have a guidance counselor or that have one or two guidance counselor who are spread too thin, in terms of time and student caseload. The same holds true for support staff who are very often the first to get laid off when school budgets are cut. Students can not be expected to graduate high school and know what they are going to be when they grow up if they are not receiving the emotional and academic support they need in school.
Why am I writing about Chicago Public Schools when this blog is entitled New York School Talk? I’ll tell you why: I’m concerned that in the years to come, because we educate millions of students in New York City, the educational policy powers of the Mayor and the Board of Regents — which, more and more, I realize I want to inform and participate in — will accept a policy like the one Chicago has for our students. I’m telling you right now that this would be a huge mistake if we do so without the skilled human capital in the form of guidance counselors. Not guidance counselor-like computer programs, but social workers, mental health counselors, substance abuse counselors, and life coaches. Mandating that students have a plan for their lives after high school in order to receive a diploma requires these investments.
Not doing so just sets our children up for failure.