In Chicago, high school will soon become about more than passing tests and making good grades. Beginning with the class of 2020, Chicago high school students face a new graduation requirement: They'll have to show that they have a post-graduation plan that includes a job, higher education, or some other qualifying endeavor. The proposal from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel was approved by the local board of education back in the spring, but it is gaining attention now, just as this year's graduates are entering post-high school life.
According to The Washington Post, Chicago high school students will soon have to show that they have either secured a job or received acceptance into a college, a trade apprenticeship, a gap year program, or the military in order to gradudate. The requirement reportedly places an increased burden on Chicago's public high school students — who number more than 100,000 — but also on the public school system's guidance counselors, who are responsible for supporting students' post-graduation plans. Referencing the policy, Emanuel reportedly said:
We are going to help kids have a plan, because they're going to need it to succeed. You cannot have kids think that 12th grade is done.
Back in April, The Chicago Tribune reported that Chicago's plan would be the first requirement of its kind among the country's big-city school districts. With nearly 400,000 students total, Chicago was the nation's third-largest public school district in 2016.
Emanuel's proposal was approved by the board of education in May, along with two other graduation requirements: Beginning with the class of 2022, high school students will have to meet restructured requirements for science classes, earning one credit in each of biology, chemistry, and physics. Beginning with the class of 2021, high school students will also be required to study financial education, covering the topics of economics, banking, credit, money management, investments, and insurance.
In reality, the requirement for students to show post-graduation plans may not create much of a burden. All Chicago public school students are automatically accepted into City Colleges of Chicago, a network of local community colleges. Students also qualify for free tuition, books, and materials at the City Colleges, as long as they fill out the appropriate paperwork for the Chicago Star Scholarship, according to a source for The Root. As reported, Emanuel's plan did not specify whether a community college program satisfies the new graduation requirement.
Emanuel's program would first apply to the class of 2020. Those students are currently rising sophomores, which gives them about three more years to figure out their post-graduation plans. Emanuel will face his next big test before those students do, as he is next up for re-election in 2019.