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High Schools Are Adding a New Graduation Requirement -- A Post-Graduation Plan

High school students attending public school in Chicago will have to show that they have a plan in place for after high school before they’re handed a diploma. The plan is to require that all seniors starting with the graduating class of 2020 provide evidence that after high school they’ll either be attending college, some sort of gap-year program, trade apprenticeship, military enlistment, or have a legitimate job offer.

“We are going to help kids have a plan, because they’re going to need it to succeed,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “You cannot have kids think that 12th grade is done.”

Chicago has one of the largest public school districts in the country and while 73 percent of students graduate, the number who go on to earn a bachelor's degree is somewhat discouraging. It’s estimated that just 18% of the city’s ninth-graders earn a bachelor’s degree within 10 years of graduating high school. The mayor said that only about 60 percent of the city’s graduating seniors have a plan for after college and that he “cannot in good conscience as a mayor allow the other 40%” to drift into post-graduation uncertainty.

The plan was approved in May, making the city’s school district the first urban district of such a large scale to implement the requirement. Known as "Learn. Plan. Succeed," the plan has its fair share of critics who say that it places unrealistic burdens on guidance counselors and denies students the diploma they’ve worked for.

“If you’ve done the work to earn a diploma, then you should get a diploma. Because if you don’t, you are forcing kids into more poverty,” Karen Lewis, president of the Chicago Teachers Union, told The Washington Post.

Chicago isn’t the only school district to consider modifying their graduation requirements in order to try and best prepare their students for the working world.

Starting in 2022, high school students in Mississippi could have graduation requirements that include “career and technical endorsements” to better prepare seniors for college and workforce readiness.

State Department of Education representative, Jean Massey explained to The Clarion-Ledger that the proposal addresses the issue of parents thinking that a diploma automatically equals college readiness. Forty-two percent of students in the state's community college system required academic remediation in their first year. If approved the new traditional diploma plan will require students in more than half of Mississippi's school districts to complete 24 credits in a particular subject in order to graduate. Current local district options only require a minimum of 21.

New York state is kicking around a similar idea that would allow students to earn a diploma through a “work-readiness credential,” rather than passing at least four of the state’s Regents exams.

New York state’s education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, said it’s an opportunity to examine if a career development/occupational studies credit is satisfactory enough to earn a high school diploma. It was originally built-in as an alternative diploma for students with disabilities back in 2013. Advocates who argue the state’s Regents exams unfairly hold students back would champion the proposed idea as a win, though critics would likely question it as potentially watering down the academic requirements.

There’s still no formal proposal on the books for the idea, but depending on how things go with Chicago and Mississippi, New York and other states could start to follow a similar lead.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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