What would it take for you to complete high school, even if all the odds were against you? Would the promise of a job after graduation entice you to see your high school career through to the end? That is the hope of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who has recently proposed a program to inspire Chicago youth to graduate from their city high schools. Some see the proposal as a blatant bribe, while others call it an initiative that could potentially increase the dismal graduation figures that are currently a reality in the city.
The Problem with Chicago Schools
Graduation rates in Chicago Public Schools are dismal indeed, although they have seen the slightest uptick in recent years. The Chicago Tribune reports that during the last academic year, graduation rates stood at just 60.6 percent, which was higher than it had been in previous years. Students in the city have many obstacles getting in their way of education, including a high crime rate in their neighborhoods, low-income families, and many kids with just one parent. Many kids in the Chicago school system are receiving some sort of government help, with a large percentage qualifying for the free or reduced lunch program.
Recently, Chicago Public Schools experienced a 10-day teacher strike after the teachers union and city officials could not come to an easy agreement on contract terms. Some of the concerns voiced by teachers at the time could play a role in low graduation rates as well, such as oversized classrooms and lack of proper teaching resources. Teachers also complained that there were not enough services available for the students who needed them most, such as those coming from low-income families. While the strike has since been reconciled, it brought attention to many of the gaps in the Chicago Public School system that have not been fixed and may not be addressed in the near future.
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Although services have been rendered to children in need as much as the school system is able, it has not been sufficient in improving graduation rates significantly. With a high number of high school drop-outs in the city, predictions of rising crime rates and instability are a concern for residents and lawmakers alike. The best bet is to get students through high school and into good-paying jobs, which is the focus of Mayor Emanuel’s latest proposal.
Introducing Job Application Preference
NBC Chicago reports that Mayor Emanuel has announced a new program that will offer graduates of Chicago public schools “job application preference” for available jobs in the city. Under the new proposal, the city’s Department of Human Resources will have the responsibility of ensuring at least 20 percent of all job applications received by a city department will be from Chicago Public Schools graduates. Applicants will need to provide a diploma or transcripts as proof of their time in the city’s school system.
“This new hiring preference encourages our students to stay in school and get their diploma so they are prepared for college and a career,” Mayor Emanuel stated at NBC Chicago.
According to Emanuel, helping students succeed is an important responsibility of the city government. In addition to the current programs, this addition is designed specifically to ensure students have the foundation necessary to get a good job after high school. WGN TV explains this program is modeled after a similar one currently available to military veterans.
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“From cradle to career…we are committed to helping our students succeed every step of the way,” Emanuel added in a press release that was quoted at the Chicago Tribune.
City departments must opt into the job application preference program. Some of the jobs that might be included in the program are sanitation workers, tree trimming, and graffiti removal. Although the applications from Chicago graduates may be given preference, it is not a guarantee of a position. Graduates will have to go through the hiring process just like all the other applicants. However, the policy will give Chicago graduates a “leg up” in the process. It also provides the city with a pool of educated, qualified applicants.
“This is an important step as it not only encourages our students to stay in school and get their degrees but also helps fill the gap between skilled employees we need with students we know have received a quality education in our public schools,” Soo Choi, Commissioner of the City Department of Human Resources, told NBC Chicago.
Bribery or Positive Incentive?
While some are applauding Emanuel’s efforts to ramp up graduation rates in the city, others are likening the new program to simple bribery. In a scathing criticism of Emanuel’s new plan, Ethel C. Fenig writes at American Thinker, “Bribery is a way of life in Chicago – this is just another bribe dressed up as good government, good education.” Fenig asserts that it is not the job of the government to care for Chicago’s youth “from cradle to career,” but the job of parents. Fenig also brings up the fact that parents of children who worked hard to put their children through one of the city’s private schools will not have the same advantage as students from the public school system.
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Despite these concerns, many in Chicago believe any step toward higher graduation rates is a step in the right direction. Any incentive that convinces the troubled youth in the Chicago school system that there is hope beyond high school may be significant in changing the future of at least some. Time will tell whether Emanuel’s latest plan will be a boom or bust to the public school system in the city where he currently serves.
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