New State Budget Bill, Field Trip Bridges Cultural Divide, Chicago’s Diploma Requirements

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State Republicans released a new budget bill today, hoping to finish a lengthy debate on funding. We find out what’s in the bill and what its chances are. A rural Wisconsin high school recently welcomed a group of students from Chicago to visit their community as part of a field trip meant to expose the classes to different lifestyles. We talk with the teachers behind the idea about how the experience impacted students. We also hear about a proposal for Chicago public schools that would require high schoolers to have college or work plans in order to receive a diploma.

Featured in this Show

  • State Senate Republicans Reveal New Budget Plan

    We learn about a budget proposal unveiled by State Senate Republicans on Tuesday in an effort to resolve the state’s budget impasse.

  • New Chicago Policy On High School Diplomas

    Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to require that high school students present a post-graduation plan in order to receive their diploma from the city’s public schools. We’ll look at the implications of that requirement.

  • Reporter: Planning Ahead Is Important, But Chicago Requiring Post-Graduation Plan Is 'A Bit Much'

    Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s initiative to require high school seniors to prove they have a post-graduation plan to receive their diplomas may seem like tough love.

    But critics of the plan, slated to take effect in 2020, say it doesn’t hold water. That’s according to Valerie Strauss, an education reporter for the Washington Post.

    Students hoping to graduate from a Chicago public school must show they have: an acceptance letter to college, job program such as coding boot camp, trade apprenticeship or other apprenticeship, gap-year program; a job offer; or military acceptance or enlistment letter.

    In April, when Emanual was announcing the initiative, he said, “A K-12 model was relevant 10, 15, 20 years ago. The city of Chicago is moving towards a pre-K-college model.”

    The plan, called “Learn. Plan. Succeed,” was approved by the Chicago Board of Education in May. The school district has 381,000 students in 652 schools. It is the third-largest school district in the United States.

    Chicago Public Schools’ five-year graduation rate was about 73 percent in 2016, according to the Chicago Tribune. And as of 2015, according to the newspaper, an estimated 18 percent of the school district’s ninth-graders would graduate from a four-year university within 10 years of beginning high school.

    Critics say that the program is moot, however, because anybody who graduates from a Chicago public high school is automatically accepted into local community colleges. They just have to apply, Strauss said.

    “So somebody who decides they want to not really do much of anything when they graduate from high school could ostensibly apply to community college, get the acceptance, show that, and then not go,” she said.

    A bigger problem for critics of the bill is that it doesn’t increase or improve resources in already resource strapped schools, Strauss said. For example, rather than hiring additional guidance counselors to provide programming and help students think about what to do after school, the initiative would fund additional training for current counselors.

    That’s a problem because Chicago Public Schools already have a dearth of counselors and the Chicago Public Schools counselors already have large workloads, she said.

    “That is probably the most important critique that has been made from the community, that essentially, in the end, this is simply another hurdle that has no real meaning. It doesn’t offer any help to students, because they’re just isn’t the counseling force to do that,” Strauss said.

    An example of a school district that Strauss thinks is doing it right is in Tacoma, Washington. Tacoma Public Schools students are required to show proof of post-graduation plans, but programming begins as early as middle school to get students thinking constructively about what they’d like to do after school, she said.

    All of Washington state’s school districts have career planning built into middle school. Tacoma added the post-high school planning requirement, Strauss said.

    “But in the end, if a student can’t provide any of the similar kinds of proof (Emanuel’s initiative requires), they have to sit down with a counselor and talk about it and explain it, and they’ll still get their diploma. To me that makes a lot of sense,” Strauss said.

    “The idea of planning ahead is absolutely right. Deciding what you want to be — it’s a process. But to sort of arbitrarily say, ‘Alright, we want to see what you’re going to do. Every single person has to tell us or you can’t get a diploma,’ is a bit much,” she said.

    Those who are for Emanuel’s plan say the mayor is correct in positing that high school graduates need more than just a diploma to succeed in today’s economy.

    Former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan wrote in an op-ed for the Chicago Tribune, “A high school diploma cannot be the end of learning. Instead, it must be a steppingstone to a job, to college and to life. …Young people don’t drop out because school is too hard. They drop out because it is too easy and they are not engaged.”

  • Wisconsin, Chicago Students Share Similarities And Differences In Class Exchange

    A bus full of chattering high school students went silent as their bus pulled onto the rural highway leading to Blanchardville, Wisconsin.

    The bus was from Lake View High School in Chicago, now well on its way to Pecatonica High School in southern Wisconsin.

    “Everyone sort of got quiet and just started looking out their windows,” said Brian Wittenwyler, a math, science and special education teacher at Lake View. “They were pretty nervous coming in, and getting off the bus and seeing their school.”

    The Lake View and Pecatonica students were brought together as part of a classroom exchange between Wittenwyler and Grant Hambrick, a math teacher at Pecatonica.

    Wittenwyler’s students — many immigrants, some undocumented — had been left reeling after the presidential election. They felt a need for dialogue and understanding with someone different from them.

    Hambrick was fascinated with the opportunity. His class, rural and 98 percent white, also felt they could learn from talking to some city kids one state over.

    Wittenwyler said his class addressed their prejudices up front before the meeting.

    “We could go into that discussion sort of knowing who we are and what our faults were so we would be open for dialogue,” Wittenwyler said. “So that the sharing and the discussions would be meaningful.”

    Hambrick’s class went through a similar exercise in preparation.

    “We also had discussions about stereotypes and what we thought the kids were going to be like. A lot of negative stereotypes did come out,” he said.

    But at the same time, the classes hoped to find similarities from the meeting. Hambrick wanted it to be more than just a meeting between a red state and a blue state.

    “We wanted to share ourselves and see what all we had in common,” Hambrick said.

    Still, they weren’t sure what to expect once they met face to face. Hambrick’s students wondered if the Chicagoans would find Blanchardville boring.

    Luckily, there was a built-in icebreaker in Blanchardville: a visit to a working dairy farm, a first for most of the Lake View students.

    “I think the barriers between us just started to collapse,” Hambrick said. “And it just allowed everybody to try to relax.”

    Pecatonica students showed off their farm animals, and talked about their lives.

    Later on, the classes met again in Chicago, and talked social issues. They made their own personality pie charts, dividing their lives into areas such as ethnicity, sexuality and race.

    One Lake View student shared how her race affects her life, explaining how strongly it is associated with her identity.

    “We used that as a talking point,” Wittenwyler said. “I think a lot of kids in Blanchardville were like, ‘That’s not really something that we think about or consider on a daily basis.’”

Episode Credits

  • Rob Ferrett Host
  • Veronica Rueckert Host
  • Amanda Magnus Producer
  • Judith Siers-Poisson Producer
  • Shawn Johnson Guest
  • Valerie Strauss Guest
  • Brian Wittenwyler Guest
  • Grant Hambrick Guest

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