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Rahm’s Chicago

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Rahm Emanuel’s new education policy is senseless on the face of it.

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.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) said he wants to make clear that the nation’s third-largest school system is not just responsible for shepherding teenagers to the end of their senior year, but also for setting them on a path to a productive future.

“We are going to help kids have a plan, because they’re going to need it to succeed,” he said. “You cannot have kids think that 12th grade is done.”

How is this possibly workable? Are you going to require Chicago employers to hire recent high school graduates? Is everyone just going to have to pay the application fee to community college, even though many won’t go? I can see the military jumping all over this to get more recruits. I can also see people effectively paying a black market for job offers that don’t exist. The implementation of this seems like an utter disaster waiting to happen. You know damn well Rahm isn’t going to make sure Chicago schools are funded well enough to have meaningful guidance counseling for all its students, an issue brought up in the article linked above.

“It sounds good on paper, but the problem is that when you’ve cut the number of counselors in schools, when you’ve cut the kind of services that kids need, who is going to do this work?” said Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union and Emanuel’s longtime political opponent. “If you’ve done the work to earn a diploma, then you should get a diploma. Because if you don’t, you are forcing kids into more poverty.”

Right. The other option is that high school graduation rates in Chicago see a sharp decline. And won’t that just be great for everyone!

Janice Jackson, the school system’s chief education officer, said that is how the new requirement is supposed to work — pushing principals to improve efforts to help students prepare for the future. About 60 percent of district students have postsecondary plans when they graduate, she said, and she doesn’t think the schools should wait for more money to set an expectation that the remaining 40 percent follow suit.

Would Chicago really withhold diplomas from students who meet every requirement except the new one? Jackson says it won’t come to that, because principals, counselors and teachers won’t let it. They’ll go to students in that situation and press them to make sure they have a plan.

Well, Rahm has respected teachers so well during his tenure that it’s hard to see how these overworked, underpaid, downsized workers won’t devote all their free time to their students. Oh wait, many already do.

To put it another way:

But you know Rahm has the kids’ education in mind. After all, his shuttering of hundreds of schools has paid off in what counts: more upper class housing.

The Uptown controversy has to do with a sign posted outside 4525 N. Kenmore, the building that was formerly Graeme Stewart School. Chicago Public Schools closed the school and sold it to a private developer who’s turning it into the Stewart School Lofts, which are being marketed shamelessly on a placard over the school’s abandoned playground as “best in the class” rentals.

CPS officials hailed the Stewart sale as a win-win. “This is the fifth former school site we have sold in the past three months,” CEO Forrest Claypool said in a press release. “While we still have work to do, I am encouraged that the engagement process is working and expect this positive trend to continue.”

Not everyone sees it that way, especially Wozniak, who lives in Uptown. “To me, this is Rahm Emanuel’s Chicago,” she says. “We’re closing schools and turning them into private projects and disinvesting in neighborhood kids.”

What really galled her was that damn sign. “I find that insulting to all the kids who went to Stewart and all the people who worked there,” Wozniak says.

More maddening still is that Emanuel earmarked $16.1 million in TIF dollars to subsidize the development of a high-rise apartment complex at Clarendon and Montrose—not far from Stewart.

So once again there’s no money for our dead-broke schools, but millions for upscale housing.

Forcing kids to an acceptance letter to graduate will truly make Chicago great again.

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