Views expressed in opinion columns are the author's own.
In an effort to ensure future success for their students, Chicago Public Schools enacted a new graduation requirement to take effect in 2020: High school students must have a post-graduation plan to receive a diploma. The plan must show that the student has either been accepted into college, a gap-year program or a trade apprenticeship, enlisted in the military, or received a job offer.
While it sounds like this new requirement was well-intended, its practicality is doubtful. City officials are raising around $1 million to hire college and career coaches while, in 2015, nearly 500 teachers and more than 1,000 support staff were laid off. In the wake of such drastic cuts, the city should be focusing their efforts on reconstructing a struggling public school system.
Chicago's high school dropout rate is about 30 percent, which means the school system's top priority should be improving education quality rather than punishing students for not knowing what they want to do after graduation. Students would be better equipped to plan for their futures with a solid educational foundation — not the burden of a mandatory pathway.
Chicago's new graduation requirement is simply unfair. Imagine doing all the work — passing the required courses, completing the mandatory community service — only to be denied the diploma you rightly deserve. Of course, having an idea of what one wants in the future is crucial for success as a working adult; making it an obligation, however, may be more harmful than helpful. It might discourage students on the brink of dropping out before finishing school. These students may believe going through the coursework is pointless if their hard-earned diploma can be taken away from them.
Moreover, at the age of 17, students are rarely sure what career path they want to take. When it is so common for college students to enter university undecided or switch majors at least once, how can we expect a high schooler to have exact plans for the future?
Helping students prepare for life after high school is an admirable initiative. Nevertheless, making a future plan should be supplemental to the high school experience, not a compulsory task students must hurdle over to graduate. Chicago's new requirement is ambitious, and while schools should absolutely be involved in guiding students toward appropriate post-graduation plans, their mistake is making it mandatory — and it could backfire immediately upon implementation.
Asha Kodan is a sophomore biology major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.