Emanuel’s new high school graduation plan denounced by experts, graduates


James Tsitiridis

Emanuel’s new high school graduation plan denounced by experts, graduates

By Jackie Murray

New requirements for Chicago public high school students to receive their diplomas have drawn criticism from CPS alumni and education experts.

Announced by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson April 5, “Learn. Plan. Succeed.” would require all CPS high school students—starting with the class of 2020—to have a job, college or military acceptance letter; acceptance at a job program or apprenticeship; or approved gap-year program secured in order to receive their diplomas.

The program, which is likely to be approved by the Board of Education, would be the first of its kind in a large urban school district, according to the April 5 press release from the mayor’s office.

While the plan will likely work for the students who were already planning to go to college or already have post-graduation plans, it is not going to work for individual students with different plans or situations, said Kate Phillippo, associate professor at the School of Education at Loyola University Chicago. 

“To assume what every kid should do [post-graduation] runs the risk of putting obstacles in the way between young people and high school graduation,”  Phillippo said 

CPS already has pronouncedinequalities among students’ college attendance  rates across the district because few schools have abundant college counseling resources. To introduce this requirement without adding services to enforce it would be problematic, she added.

Fadya Salem, a 2010 graduate of Hubbard High School  on the Southwest Side and third-year law student at DePaul University, said the plan is a terrible idea that will only lead to fewer high school students graduating, adding that it is exclusionary without thought of how the goal will be achieved. 

“This sounds like a blanket policy without really being informed on how they’re going to institute it and what better methods there are to achieve those goals,” Salem said. 

Ruben Ceniceros, a 2013 graduate of Thomas Kelly High School on the Southwest Side and student at Harold Washington College studying journalism, said the high school’s administration and how much it is willing to help students bridge the gap between high school and  post-secondary  planning influences a student’s future actions. Ceniceros and Salem both said their schools had resources such as counselors who pushed initiatives to encourage college attendance and planning for the future. 

William Sampson, professor and chair of the Department of Public Policy Studies at DePaul University, said the plan will decrease graduation rates because there are already many possible reasons students do not graduate high school. 

Some students have family lives not conducive to the kind of education offered in public schools, and some students have difficulties maintaining adequate food, shelter and safety, which makes concentrating on education difficult, he added. 

“Now you’re going to come along with an extra requirement,” Sampson said. “The mayor has no clue about what’s going on in poor brown and black communities. If he did, he’d understand that [the plan is]  just an extra impediment.”

Despite pushback, the initiative’s primary goal is to ensure students have a plan when they leave high school and that counselors as well as other support systems within high schools make certain students have options and opportunities, said Alan Mather. Chief of CPS’ Office of College and Career Success.

According to Mather, CPS officials realized  there was a gap in supporting students who were choosing a post-graduation pathway other than college.

“There was nothing [through CPS] to recognize the work schools were doing and preparing students for that alternative pathway that might’ve been an apprenticeship, leading to a good paying job,” Mather said.

He added how the plan was not news to principals and school counselors. Mather explained that CPS met with school officials, students and other organizations  to vet the idea and hear their feedback  before the official plan was announced.

The plan will more than likely get the approval of  the Chicago Board of Education, Sampson said, but for the wrong reasons. 

“They want to appear, for political reasons, to do something,” Sampson said.  “[The plan] is just the wrong something.” 


Updated 12p.m., May 25

Despite criticism from educators and community members, the Chicago Board of Education unanimously approved Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s new high school graduation requirements, according to a May 24 CBE press release.

Starting with the class of 2020, all Chicago Public Schools students will be required to have a job, college or military acceptance letter; acceptance at a job program or apprenticeship; or approved gap-year program secured in order to receive their high school diplomas, according to the press release. 

“Every time we raise the bar for Chicago’s students, they succeed and exceed our greatest expectations,” Emanuel said in the press release. “We have a responsibility to set our students up for continued success so that high school is a milestone and not a destination. These efforts are a natural outgrowth of years of successful and record-breaking academic progress and will help to ensure that students have the tools they need to succeed after high school.”

CBE also approved changes to CPS science curriculum. Currently, three science credits are required for high school students, including one credit in biology and two credits in other lab sciences. Starting with the class of 2022, students must complete one credit each in biology, chemistry and physics, according to the press release.

CPS high school students will also have an updated financial education requirement to be aligned with the new Illinois State Board of Education standards for financial literacy. Starting with the class of 2021, students will have a financial literacy, pass/fail graduation requirement. The course will focus on building student knowledge, habits and skill in six categories: concepts of economics, banking, credit, money management, investments and insurance, according to the press release.

“CPS is laser-focused on establishing high standards and supports needed to ensure our students are competitive and prepared for the college and career of their choice,” CPS Chief Education Officer Janice K. Jackson said in the press release. “By establishing stronger graduation requirements designed to prepare students for success in the 21st century, we are fostering equity, quality and consistency of standards and guidelines for all high schools and all graduates.”