Chicago has one of the largest public school districts in the United States, with nearly 400,000 students in 660 schools. Their graduation rate is historically low, recent improvements bringing it up to 73 percent, still 10 percentage points below the national average. While numbers are soft, an estimated 18 percent of Chicago freshmen will wind up with a degree.
Chicago’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, feels that his school district is not doing enough to drive these students forward.
“We are going to help kids have a plan, because they’re going to need it to succeed,” said Emanuel. “You cannot have kids think that 12th grade is done.”
To that end, he and the Chicago school district have put a new plan into play. Titled “Learn. Plan. Succeed,” and scheduled to go into effect for 2020’s graduates, the plan is a new gradation requirement that won’t allow students to leave high school without a firm plan to move forward.
Starting in 2020, graduating Chicago seniors will not be given their diploma without proof that they have been accepted to a college, some other further education, or a trade apprenticeship, given a confirmed job offer, or that they have enlisted in the military.
Many see the problems in this plan. This plan risks resigning students to a damaging loop of no-diploma-no-job-no-diploma, forcing seventeen-year-olds into the military because they do not have the resources, skills, or contacts to take any of the other options, or pushing unprepared teenagers and their parents to take loans they cannot afford to get into college that they aren’t ready for.
Chicago isn’t alone in modifying graduation requirements to combat the perception that graduates are unprepared for the “real world.” Mississippi intends to require students to earn “career and technical endorsements.” New York is considering letting working students use their jobs for school credit. But Chicago’s plan does not leave room to consider the different situations and pressures on students, applying a blanket solution that will be stressful and potentially harmful.