Under Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s leadership Chicago has seen skyrocketing violence, numerous police scandals, and a prevailing sense of total dissatisfaction with Emanuel himself.
Now, Emanuel has launched another misery-inducing initiative. He’s going to deny children their high school diploma unless they can meet requirements that have nothing to do with actually graduating from high school.
“You won’t be able to graduate,” Emanuel explained to CBS This Morning on Wednesday, “unless you show [a] letter of acceptance to...college, community college, armed services or a trade.”
Emanuel told the Chicago Sun-Times that, currently, 62% of children have been accepted to college or community college. “Our goal is to make sure nobody spikes the ball at 12th grade,” he said. “We want to make 14th grade universal. That’s the new goal line.”
Chicago Public Schools Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson echoed Emanuel’s point during a recent event with the Mayor.
“Chicago is the first district in the country to make this a graduation requirement,” Jackson explained. “And we are excited to be pioneers in this effort.”
The mayor said his new plan is set to begin with the class of 2020.
It’s obviously good if more kids are accepted to college. But there are obvious, glaring issues here. An A+ student whose future may have been contingent upon earning a high school diploma, but whose finances or family circumstances preclude any sort of post-secondary options, would essentially be entirely out of luck. What the mayor claims will be a pipeline to further educational opportunities could, instead, be an abrupt dead end.
Emanuel’s office has proposed plans to ease the path into higher education for CPS students, including offering free tuition to city colleges for “B” average students. However, a 2016 report concluded that more than half the CPS class of 2014 with a “B” average would be ineligible for the program, based on ACT testing scores.
More to the point, though, punishing students for not meeting a requirement that has no connection with how they actually performed in school is cruel and needlessly divisive. It’s also easy to predict the inevitable, unjust fallout that could arise from vulnerable students scrambling to meet the new rules in any way possible. Taken together, Emanuel’s plan is ostentatiously awful even by his degraded standards.
Update: A representative from Chicago Public Schools reached out to me to point out that students with extenuating circumstances can get waivers from this program, and that there are some additional ways for students to meet the proposed requirements.
Those are, in the words of CPS:
-College acceptance letter
-Military acceptance/enlistment letter
-Acceptance at a job program (e.g. coding bootcamp)
-Acceptance into a trades pre-apprenticeship/apprenticeship
-Acceptance into a “gap-year” program
-Current job/job offer letter
It’s unclear why Rahm Emanuel didn’t highlight this broader list in his media blitz, but that’s somewhat beside the point. Having a couple extra options still doesn’t address the core flaw in the proposed plan. Graduation is a mark of past accomplishments, and forcing children to get a job or join the military just to be able to leave high school is wrong. Of course it’s a good thing for people to have a post-high school plan. Making a diploma contingent on one, however, is still a bad idea.