Home > Uncategorized > Rahm Emmanuel’s Agreeable Fantasy: A High School Graduation Standard Will Fix Public Schools

Rahm Emmanuel’s Agreeable Fantasy: A High School Graduation Standard Will Fix Public Schools

Last week Washington Post eduction blogger Valerie Strauss wrote a post titled “Really Rahm? The Chicago Mayor’s Newest Far-Fetched Plan for High Schools“. The post describes Chicago mayor Rahm Emaanuel’s latest idea for “reform”:

“Learn. Plan. Succeed initiative” — which requires any student who wants a high school diploma to prove they have a plan for life after high school — they called it, to be exact, “an evidence-based proposal that is the first of its kind in the country.”

The new graduation standard can be achieved by providing written proof  of a plan after high school with one of these options:

  • 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

At first blush, this appears to be an eminently reasonable means of assuring that every graduate is ready for college or ready for work. But I know from my experience as a public high school administrator and public school superintendent that such a plan requires an immense effort on the part of counselors… and based on my reading about the staffing levels in Chicago was not surprised to find that they are woefully understaffed in guidance. Here’s Ms. Strauss’ description of the district’s woes in this area:

Emanuel wants students to provide proof that they have something to do — within parameters — when they leave high school. But that requires planning, and Chicago public schools aren’t exactly filled with counselors who can help young people plan their futures. A 2016 article published by the 74 found that Chicago is one of the big-city school districts that has more security staff than counselors. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of one counselor for every 250 students, though in Illinois, there was one counselor for every 701 students in 2013-2014, the latest available data period. 

So how does Mr. Emmanuel intend to expand the responsibility of schools without expanding the number of counselors? Training!

In 2013, CPS began training staff to obtain the Chicago College Advising Credential (CCAC), which will best equip staff to support concrete post-secondary plans, with a goal ensuring every high school has a certified counselor or coach. To date, roughly 40 percent of school counselors have obtained this certification and as part of this initiative, CPS will ensure all counselors have the training. Working with the Mayor, CPS is raising the approximately $1 million in funding from the philanthropic and business communities to accelerate this training.

So instead of providing the funds necessary to increase the counseling staff by 280% (the number needed to meet the American School Counselor Association standard, which does not take into account the expectation that counselors would serve as job placement officers), Mr. Emmanuel intends to offer training to existing counselors. Even Arne Duncan, whose op ed piece on high school “reform” was supposedly the impetus for Mayor Emmanuel’s new initiative recognized the need for more staffing. Here’s an excerpt from his op ed piece that was quoted in Ms. Strauss’ post:

For low-income kids, however, those work experiences don’t just happen naturally. That’s where the schools and society have to step up. To give every single student in Chicago a better chance, we need to invest in our schools and our counseling programs. We need to make life-planning as much a part of high school as English, math, sports and the arts.

Maybe the mayor believes that his staff development program addresses Arne Duncan’s call for “the need to invest in… counseling programs”. But the mayor’s failure understand the need to to hire more counselors is only a small if his delusion. The list of options above each require the outlay of government funding at either the federal, state, or local level because there aren’t enough jobs, apprenticeship programs, military openings, or community college seats for the graduates of Chicago high schools. Wishing there were jobs, apprenticeships, “gap year” programs, military openings, and community college seats is insufficient. It will require a united effort on the part of government leaders to provide those kinds of opportunities, and such an effort would require a mayor to look beyond the one time expenditure of “…approximately $1 million in funding from the philanthropic and business communities”. It will require higher taxes and a much stronger safety net.  

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