As a way to hold Chicago Public Schools more responsible for the individuals they educate, a new initiative for students will require prospective graduates to show proof of a plan for after high school before they can be awarded their diplomas.
Meeting this new requirement could include showing proof of a secured a job or a letter of acceptance from a college, trade apprenticeship, a gap year program or the military, according to the Washington Post.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel said he wants the initiative to show the nation’s third-largest school system is helping put these teenagers on a path to a productive future, instead of simply showing them the exit.
“We are going to help kids have a plan, because they’re going to need it to succeed,” he said in an interview with the Washington Post. “You cannot have kids think that 12th grade is done.”
While many agree having a plan after high school is crucial to succeeding in the modern economy, there is still much chatter about the initiative and how much schools should or can intervene on such a thing.
Approved by the Board of Education in late May, Mayor Emanuel’s plan put Chicago at the center of that debate with others anxiously awaiting the results.
The rule is set to take effect in 2020, and some students, parents and teachers are already embracing it, saying it will help level the playing field for those who need it.
“It means they have a plan instead of graduating and not knowing what they want to do,” DeAvion Gillarm, who recently graduated from Morgan Park, said in an interview.
There are still a number of concerns surrounding the initiative, and many argue it is an empty gesture doing little to address the growing number of teenagers graduating in impoverished neighborhoods.
Relatedly, community colleges may not prepared to meet the needs of first-generation students from low-income families.
Chicago Public Schools is the first big-city system to put an initiative like this one in effect, but the logistical questions are far from simple, as outsiders wonder if an already financially burdened school system can provide the tools or support necessary to enforce this new requirement.
Experts also question if this initiative is asking too much of the students or the school system, which laid off more than 1,000 teachers and staff members in 2016 and struggled to keep their doors open for the final weeks of the 2016-2017 school year.
“I know what’s not good for kids is allowing them to go into a job market and the rest of their lives with a high school diploma when everything tells you that they need more than that,” Emanuel told the Washington Post.