Students Push Back on New Graduation Requirement

A new graduation requirement by Chicago Public Schools would withhold diplomas from seniors who don't have a tangible post-graduation life plan.

In April, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced a new graduation requirement that would go into effect in 2020, designed to ensure seniors had a post-secondary plan before leaving high school.

The initiative, called, "Learn. Plan. Succeed," would require all students provide evidence of a post-graduation plan: acceptance into college or a gap-year program, job offer, military enlistment or trade apprenticeship.

No plan? No diploma.

In August, students from the Mayoral Youth Commission met with Emanuel to offer student feedback of his new graduation requirement plan.

Lack of Details Begets More Confusion

Making a major change to graduation requirements would be newsworthy, regardless of the amount of details received, but with little information available about the new plan, students and parents have understandably been concerned.

Students from the Mikva Youth organization offered several suggestions to the mayor that would help clear up confusion for parents and students.

  • Present the information in several languages to include parents who don't speak English. The student organization recommended multi-language videos that could be made available at school open houses across the district in order to increase awareness and knowledge of the new program
  • Provide opportunities for students to have a voice in the planning and implementation process. By including the input of students, the mayor and city officials will be aware of specific needs and challenges when it comes to making post-secondary decisions.
  • Budget for more guidance and career counselors, and give them the education and resources to assist students in deciding and applying for opportunities after graduation.

School Districts are Searching for Ways to Make Students Successful

Chicago's new graduation requirement is not the only way city officials and school administrators around the country are trying to encourage students to care about their future. The rise of the portfolio is evidence that educators are seeking ever-more creative ways to get students to think about life after high school.

In California, seniors are required to present a portfolio of their academic career: their papers, projects, tests and creative works, including anything done in elective classes. Essentially, they are making the case for their graduation, similar to that of a college student defending their dissertation.

When you see your students reflect on what they’ve learned, and see how that learning has affected them, it’s hard to say this isn’t a good idea,” Isabel Morales, a 12th-grade social studies teacher, said. “Watching the defenses taught me how much my lessons count, how crucial it is for me to provide a transformative learning experience for my students.”

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