The current percentage of Chicago Public School (CPS) students who head to college immediately after graduating from high school is 16 percent, according to a report from the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research. Mayor Rahm Emanuel is trying to increase the college matriculation rate, but he’s under fire for pushing a controversial new graduation requirement plan forward.
The plan, titled “Learn. Plan. Succeed. — A Degree for Life,” contains revised graduation requirements for CPS students. Seniors will now need a college acceptance letter; military acceptance/enlistment letter; proof of acceptance at a job program, trade pre-apprenticeship/apprenticeship, a “gap-year” program; or a current job or offer letter in order to receive their high school diploma.
“We are going to help kids have a plan, because they’re going to need it to succeed,” Emanuel told The Washington Post. “You cannot have kids think that 12th grade is done.”
CPS is the first big-city system to make post-graduation plans a graduation requirement. The plan was approved by the Board of Education in late May and will take effect in 2020.
Many wonder whether or not the district, which is already struggling in terms of funding, will be able to support students in their efforts to actualize their post-graduation goals. Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center on Education Policy in Washington D.C., doesn’t believe the new plan is even legal.
“I’ve been doing this for 20 years, and I’ve never heard anything like [“Learn. Plan. Succeed.”],” she told The Chicago Tribune. “The question I would have for Mayor Emanuel is: ‘Where did this come from? What informed your thinking to lead you to believe this was a good plan of action for CPS?”
Demetria Gallagher, Chicago native and former academic advisor to African-American students entering the University of Illinois Chicago, said the plan could use revision before implemented.
“College-readiness is a long-term process that should be integrated within the high school curriculum, especially when it comes to first-generation, and low-income students,” Gallagher told NPR. “For underserved students, they may graduate from high school, but the key question is, are they truly prepared academically for college instruction and success?”