Chicago Schools to Students: Submit to Our Choices for Your Futures or No Diploma

Seniors must choose from a list of acceptable post-school plans, or they won't graduate.


Chicago Public Schools
Anthony Souffle/TNS/Newscom

Hey, Chicago parents: Are you ready for a bunch of government officials to decide whether your teen has appropriate post-high-school plans?

If you're not, too bad. Your city's school district is pushing forward with its plan to demand—as a requirement to graduate—that seniors prove to the school that they have a plan for the future. What's more, this plan has to match what school administrators think your kid's future should look like.

Reason previously warned that this order was in the works and that Mayor Rahm Emanuel was fully supporting it. It is now officially in place, and it will start applying to students graduating in 2020. Here is a list of options that graduating seniors will be allowed to pursue:

  • College acceptance letter received and returned
  • Military acceptance/enlistment letter
  • Acceptance into a job program (i.e., coding boot camp)
  • Acceptance into a trades pre-apprenticeship/apprenticeship
  • Acceptance into a "gap year" program
  • Current job/job offer letter

The original version was less hospitable to the idea of teens entering directly into the workforce, so at least there's an improvement there. And it says waivers "will be developed" for students with "extenuating circumstances," however the district might eventually define them.

But note the insistent attitude here that moving forward into adulthood and being "successful" at it is assumed to involve putting one's self right back under the control or authority of others. Personal entrepreneurship is not an option. If your kid is a wunderkind in crafts or 3D printing and is making bank on Etsy, that doesn't satisfy the Chicago school system. Will administrators see private contract work as a "job" under this system?

The inclusion of military enlistment as a choice remains chilling, even when you take into consideration that obviously the school is going to have to award diplomas to seniors who decide to enlist. The message it sends to struggling students who might not be cut out for college and cannot find a job or one of the other options is pretty damn stark.

Chicago school leaders don't really see that unintended consequence, because that's not their goal. As I noted the last time I blogged about it, this entire "plan" appears to be a mechanism to lobby for more money and more staff for administrative, non-education-focused purposes. The Washington Post's coverage of the policy on Monday makes it clear that this system is intended to shake out more money and support for guidance counselors and to create new programs that further entwine administrators into students' lives. Here's what's going on at Morgan Park High School:

Given the new graduation requirement, seniors beginning this fall will take a year-long seminar on planning for life after high school. [Principal Carolyn] Epps said she hopes to reach younger students through assemblies, parent meetings and instruction in home-room classes.

Janice Jackson, the school system's chief education officer, said that is how the new requirement is supposed to work—pushing principals to improve efforts to help students prepare for the future. About 60 percent of district students have postsecondary plans when they graduate, she said, and she doesn't think the schools should wait for more money to set an expectation that the remaining 40 percent follow suit.

Would Chicago really withhold diplomas from students who meet every requirement except the new one? Jackson says it won't come to that, because principals, counselors and teachers won't let it. They'll go to students in that situation and press them to make sure they have a plan.

The official description of this new demand notes that the mayor and district are attempting to raise $1 million to create new positions for "college and career coaches." This a jobs program for them. Installing this system is meant to create leverage to ratchet up administrative funding. It's not just about blackmailing students and parents into declaring they'll conform to a set of roles in order to get out from under the state's thumb. It's yet another way for the school system to demand more money by making it harder for students to graduate if those who hold the purse strings don't agree to more administrative spending.

Speaking of making it harder to graduate: Getting much less attention than this program is a change to the school's science requirements. Currently Chicago requires students to earn one credit in biology and two credits in other lab sciences. They're changing the system so that in order to graduate, students must pass biology, chemistry, and physics classes. No more choices.

Meanwhile, Illinois is financially crashing and burning, and lawmakers are overriding the governor's veto of an irresponsible budget that raises income taxes in one of the highest-taxed states in the country. No wonder people are fleeing Chicago and the state.