Photographer: Scott Olson/Getty Images

No Post-High School Plans? Chicago Doesn't Think You Should Graduate

The local teachers union opposes adding more graduation requirements.

Chicago Public School students will soon have to do more than merely pass all their classes to graduate. Starting with the class of 2020, high schoolers must present a post-grad plan before receiving their diplomas.

The new requirement, dubbed Learn. Plan. Succeed., was announced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public School Chief Education Officer Dr. Janice K. Jackson on Wednesday.

In addition to a college acceptance letter, high schools will also accept a military enlistment letter, job offer, job program placement, trade apprenticeship, or a gap-year program placement.

"We all need to change how we think about what it means to be a high school graduate–a diploma alone isn’t enough anymore," Jackson said in a statement. "At CPS, we’ve long believed that high school is only a stepping stone, and now we’re ensuring that every one of our students has given real consideration to what’s next—and taken action to succeed.” In a statement, Emanuel referred to a high school diploma as "a milestone, not a destination." 

The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) said it opposes the plan. "With Chicago Public Schools’ self-inflicted budget problems, most high schools do not have adequate staffing of counselors who would be called upon to assist students with plans for their future," CTU communications manager Ronnie Reese said. "So the mayor is setting a bar for success that—as head of the school district—he has consistently worked to undermine." The American Federation of Teachers, a national union, echoed CTU's sentiments.  

Scott Smith, a board member of the local advocacy organization SW Chicago Diversity Collaborative, also expressed concerns about the initiative, describing it as "another hoop that Chicago Public School students are going to have to jump through."

Asked about the union's concerns, Jackson said she is "unsure" why the group would oppose the plan. While schools won't be hiring more counselors, Jackson said they will be training the existing ones in college advising and added that counselors are already required to help students with the admissions process. 

The impetus for the new requirement was a report (PDF) by the University of Chicago, which found that among Chicago Public School students who hope to attend a four-year university, only 41 percent take the necessary steps to apply and enroll. Graduates of the CPS system are automatically eligible for two-year programs at City Colleges of Chicago. 

The proposal is subject to the approval of the Chicago school board. The Illinois state school board, which sets minimum graduation requests, said it hadn't seen a formal policy for CPS. "Districts may choose to adopt local graduation requirements in excess of state graduation requirements," a spokeswoman for the state board said.  

The current U.S. Department of Education was not consulted in the creation of this policy, Jackson said, as the federal organization does not typically get involved in local curriculum. The city discussed the idea, however, with the former department secretary, Arne Duncan, who served under President Obama, about the implementation of a post-graduation requirement. 

The school district will make exceptions to the graduation requirement for students with extenuating circumstances, such as those who are undocumented or are dealing with illness in the family. Jackson said she doesn't anticipate that any students will be deterred from graduating based on the new requirement, which after all requires only a plan. "Whether or not they execute the plan," she said, is "beyond our purview." 

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