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Chicago now requires college or job to graduate. Should PPS do the same?

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Starting when the class of 2020 graduates, Chicago Public Schools will mandate that students must either attend college, secure a job, enter a gap-year program, enter a trade school, acceptance at a job program or enlist in the military to earn an accredited high school diploma.

The Chicago Schools District is the fourth largest district in the country serving nearly 400,000 students with over 20,000 teachers. Chicago’s goal is to improve their graduation rate from 74 percent to at least the nation’s average of 83 percent.

In 2016, PPS’ graduation rate was just a tick higher than Chicago’s, at 75 percent. This raises the question: should PPS follow Chicago’s lead?

We don’t think so. Holding a student’s diploma after they have met the traditional graduation requirements is too costly and would require extra resources that frankly, schools just don’t have.

In recent years, Portland has seen some difficulties securing enough funds for their school system. PPS would need to hire more college counselors and support staff to meet the demands of graduating.

Impoverished areas of the city would be hit hardest through underfunding in thinking-forward programs. Opponents of the rule in Chicago have stated this, saying “It sounds good on paper” but “it forces kids into more poverty”.

If this new mandate was implemented across the country, we could see a larger disparity between the more wealthy areas of America and the areas in poverty.

Additionally, not all students are equipped to go to college or enter the workforce quite yet. Some students need more time and others need more help.

There are advantages to the Chicago plan. Requiring students to participate or prepare for the growing workforce gives students the opportunity to plan for their futures. The champion of this initiative, Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, told the Chicago Tribune that he wants students to focus on the “what’s next” in their lives.

Overall, this requirement is an oversimplification of the goal of our schools versus the reality of our education system. Resources are spread far too thin while student enrollment is still climbing. PPS should hold off on considering Chicago’s plan until Chicago proves it can be effective. 

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