Monday, April 24, 2017

What's a Parent To Do?

At first many people thought this was so unbelievable that it must be fake news, but I found it in the Chicago Tribune, and other reputable sources.  “Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants Chicago public high school students to show they have a plan for what's next before they can get a diploma.”  This adds a requirement for graduation, to become effective for the class of 2020 if approved by the school board.

His justification is to set expectations that the kids actually have a plan.  The article quoted Mayor Emanuel, "Just like you do with your children, college, post-high school, that is what's expected. If you change expectations, it's not hard for kids to adapt."  So apparently the city is taking over the job of the parents whose kids attend Chicago public schools (CPS).

If it is approved, Chicago will be the “first large urban school district to require students to develop a plan for their lives after high school.”  I guess there will be no more backpacking around Europe looking for your head that was popular among some in the generation of these kids’ grandparents.

But the idea of the city and the schools taking over parental responsibility is not new to Chicago.  An earlier article from the Tribune explains, “Starting this fall [2014], all Chicago Public Schools students will be able to get free breakfast and lunch at school.”  They had so much trouble with fraud in their reduced and free lunch programs that it became easier just to feed everyone.  For the past three years the parents need only provide one meal a day for their own children.

But it doesn’t stop there.  From the CPS website:  “Since 1998, Chicago Public Schools has required students to complete 40 service-learning hours in order to graduate.”  Since then parents don’t have to worry about instilling compassionate values or setting an example.  (In this case, the question always is whether required service makes people more generous.  We don’t celebrate those doing court-ordered community service as selfless volunteering.)

How are all these initiatives working out for the city?  From a report in September 2016 – “The latest five-year graduation rate is 73.5 percent, CPS said. The rate has been rising steadily over the past five years, according to district figures, and in 2014-15 was 69.9 percent.”  Note that even with an extra year to graduate more than one-quarter fail to do so.  Compare that to the national high school graduation rate in four years of 83.2 percent.

So it’s not fake news, just sad news.  And they are working on the wrong things.  In their book The Why Axis, authors Gneezy and List, who were working at the University of Chicago, report on various studies of motivation and incentives.  One was to try different incentive programs with students, parents and teachers in Chicago Heights public schools.  (It is not a pure comparison.  They wanted to study the CPS, but the teachers' union would not approve.)  They found that when the incentives were properly designed, minority students in this system performed just as well as their suburban counterparts in "rich, white neighborhoods."

Maybe with all that extra time on their hands the parents should take the school system to task, demand more and better education with less city and school board interference in their responsibilities.  Of course, giving up responsibilities to someone else is the easy way out – until we discover that it also means giving up control or freedom to choose.

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