Chicago’s New Graduation Requirements

Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed a new high school requirement for the kids in Chicago. They need to have a post-graduation plan.

Emanuel’s proposal would add one more big item to the graduation checklist for high school seniors: proof they’ve been accepted into college or the military, or a trade or a “gap-year” program. The requirement would also be satisfied if the student has a job or a job offer.

The point, the mayor said, is to get Chicago Public Schools students in all parts of the city to stop seeing high school graduation as an ending and get them to consider what’s next.

There are a couple of important stats in the Chicago Tribune article:

  •  The district’s five-year high school graduation rate last year hovered at around 73 percent, despite broad race-based disparities.
  • As of 2015, the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research concluded an estimated 18 percent of CPS ninth-graders would graduate from a four-year college within ten years of starting high school.

Will Emanuel’s plan mean that fewer kids graduate from high school? Will Emanuel’s plan dump a bunch of kids into the community college system who will spend years floundering in remedial classes?

Meanwhile New York City is struggling with the same problems. What do you do with kids who have been badly educated in the public schools? How do the community colleges pick up the pieces?

In NYC, the kids are shuffled along to CUNY’s community colleges, which immediately plop them in remedial classes because they can’t read or add.  80% of incoming freshmen at CUNY school need remediation.

But the kids get stuck in those remedial classes. Only 50% complete the program in a year. And the kids who do make it through the years of remedial classes AND then basic classes in the community college system AND THEN, finally, get to a four-year CUNY college, can’t finish. You know why? Because they run out of loan money. They’ve spent thousand and thousands of dollars just getting the basic education that they should have gotten for free in the public schools, and then don’t have anything left for college.

CUNY is revamping their remedial programs, so the kids don’t get stuck in them for too long, but then they’re just going to end up totally unprepared for the regular classes and will fail out.

It’s easy to make policies. It’s hard to actually make change.

13 thoughts on “Chicago’s New Graduation Requirements

  1. This sounds like a really bad idea to me. It’s guaranteed to punish those who most need the high school diploma.

    On what legal basis does the mayor think the school district has the right to require current students to bind themselves to plans beyond the day of graduation? Will they revoke the diploma if someone, heaven forbid, lies about their post-graduation plans?

    I’m not certain an acquaintance’s son received his high school diploma. He had a hard time fulfilling the community service requirement, due to his own anger management issues. He had completed the academic work. Of all his classmates, he’s probably the one who needs the diploma the most.


  2. Rahm is such a genius. He is actually willing to wreck a kid’s life if they won’t comply*. I hope that colleges will consider transcripts and GEDs as equivalents. Of course, if they do, Rahm will no doubt refuse to provide transcripts unless they go along with his next stupid scheme.

    *Seriously, we will withhold the diploma? So if a student says “none of your business” they can’t go to college? They can’t take a gap year, because the Chicago School District doesn’t approve. This is incredibly stupid and poorly thought out.


  3. The gap-year programs I’ve seen advertised online, or in brochures that arrive in the mailbox, are quite expensive.

    So, “I want to leave Chicago behind me, hand over the diploma, Bud,” would not suffice for a plan? But, “I plan to travel in Thailand, do some surfing, a bit of light tourism, and here’s the payment to the Gap Year Company,” is perfectly o.k.?

    And when would an adult citizen be free of bureaucratic supervision? Mind you, at 18 parents can’t access medical records or grades without said adult’s consent.


  4. Cranberry said:

    “The gap-year programs I’ve seen advertised online, or in brochures that arrive in the mailbox, are quite expensive.

    “So, “I want to leave Chicago behind me, hand over the diploma, Bud,” would not suffice for a plan? But, “I plan to travel in Thailand, do some surfing, a bit of light tourism, and here’s the payment to the Gap Year Company,” is perfectly o.k.?”



  5. Stupid plans that politicians/ed reformers who have always been academically successful and have as their best value cognitive skills come up with.

    A report I read/heard always come to my mind when I hear about plans that presume a road to prosperity through college. The first is the story of someone in a rural town who had decided he had to go to college and become a teacher because that was the only path he saw, after the factory/mines closed. But, the man hated school. He hatd it when he was in school, and he hated the school he was going to, and I can only imagine what he’ll feel when he’s in charge of teaching children (who might hate school, too). College, or at least what college used to be, which is a formal setting to hone and amplify certain sets of cognitive skills isn’t going to be the solution for every human being.

    Those who come from cultures where education (and/or the individual cognitive skills that allowed them to leverage that education) always imagine that the same path is open to everyone. I come from that kind of culture (as did Obama, and the Emanuels, Amy Chua, and Rubenfeld, and Vance, . . . .).


  6. Maybe some carrots? Free tuition in those community colleges? Work-study in other environments? VISTA? Habitat for Humanity stipends? Really, it’s that hard to come up with program options that would motivate rather than punish?


  7. Maybe some jobs in Chicago for high school graduates? I suggest some simple tricks, like lower taxes and less regulation. And maybe bringing down the homicide rate.


  8. And I suggest WPA style infrastructure projects, like really solid benches and walls and murals. And, I guess, bridges and schools and community centers.

    I’ve been reading about how the “lower taxes” mantra would create more jobs. I found one empirical paper that shows an effect of lower taxes on increased employment, but only when taxes are cut for the bottom 90% of the earning pool: “Tax Cuts For Whom? Heterogeneous Effects of Income Tax Changes on Growth and Employment.” But, there’s plenty of data showing no effect, and, confounds, like, for example, whether spending is decreased as well, or deficits are increased play significant roles in outcomes. The same is true for regulations, the structure and industries in which they are applied all play significant roles in outcome for employment. There is certainly no conclusive trend in general, though, supporting the ideology that “lower taxes and less regulation” will increase available jobs, especially available jobs beyond the minimum wage jobs that do not support a life (i.e. the mcdonalds budget).


    1. The WPA stuff in Pittsburgh’s parks is pretty great. Stone bridges and such over what, I think, used to be widely used walked paths. The paths were in pretty bad shape until very recently, but the bridges barely registered the decades.


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