President Donald Trump’s surprise attack on Chicago Public Schools is “fake news,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Wednesday. Then he set out to prove it — by raising the bar for the city’s high school students.
Starting with the current freshman class, CPS will make “having a plan for post-secondary success” a graduation requirement.
That means that, in order to graduate, members of the Class of 2020 and beyond will have to present a letter of acceptance, either to a four-year college, a community college, the military, or a trade. Without a “post-high school education plan,” they won’t graduate, he said.
It’s not yet known how the plans would be funded — or how CPS would enforce them given that state law doesn’t require them.
The mayor announced the new program at Malcolm X College, flanked by CPS students, teachers and graduates and in front of a banner bearing a new slogan: “Learn. Plan. Succeed.”
Emanuel argued once again that a school system based on a “K-through-12” model is “not applicable” in the high-tech world and global economy high school students are entering.
The new model is “pre-K-to-14th Grade,” he said — which is also why he already has offered free City Colleges tuition to students who graduate from CPS high schools with a “B” average.
“The workplace today has that requirement. All we’re doing as a school system are catching up to the requirements of the work place,” the mayor said.
Emanuel said the impetus for the new program was the dinner table in his own home — both growing up and with his own three children. He wants the same for CPS students.
As his parents did with him, Emanuel said, he and his wife, Amy, “drill into our kids an expectation of them. The entire Chicago Public School system — from elementary forward — is drilling an expectation. Then, we’re setting up the structure to fulfill that expectation we have for every child, regardless of where they live, regardless of their background, regardless of their ZIP code. We will be a better city because of that expectation.
“That is an expectation we have for every child because that is the expectation the economy of the 21st Century has for them. … In many ways, we’re re-inventing what high school is.”
Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said 59 percent of graduating seniors already have a “concrete post-secondary plan.” The goal of the new requirement is to impact the harder-to-capture 41 percent, she said.
“We do see some gaps in particular areas. It speaks to expectations. This is about rigor. This is about raising the expectations. But, the mayor is putting his money where his mouth is. He’s also providing support through City Colleges, through the Star program to make that a reality,” she said.
Jackson was asked how CPS can unilaterally alter graduation requirements established by the Illinois State Board of Education.
“As long as we meet the state’s minimum graduation requirements, the district does have the authority to have requirements on top of that. We have several that go above and beyond the state of Illinois requirement. So, as long as we don’t change that, we can enhance it,” Jackson said.
Emanuel added, “We have graduation requirements for computer science. We have graduation requirements for credits. There’s precedent to that.”
Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Megan Griffin that “districts may choose to adopt local graduation requirements in excess of state graduation requirements—in such cases, ISBE has no role in reviewing or approving those requirements.” She declined to comment further, saying the agency has not received “any formalized outline” for proposed changes.
But with schools flailing for cash, not all high schools have enough college counselors as is to help all students flesh out such plans, the Chicago Teachers Union pointed out.
“How much will this cost?” union spokesman Ronnie Reese wondered. “How many vocational programs have been defunded or eliminated from schools since he’s been mayor? Not only may there be fewer counselors to actually assist students in this effort, but the lack of revenue he’s bringing to the district makes it harder for students to achieve their goals.”
As for Trump, the mayor fired back at the president’s claim that “the numbers in Chicago are very rough” when it comes to the public schools.
The president wasn’t talking about the financial numbers, which are indeed “very rough.” He was answering a question about high school graduation rates and claiming that the “very rough numbers” in New York and Chicago were the percentage of those graduates who are prepared to attend college or get a meaningful job.
The mayor responded by waving copies of University of Chicago studies he plans to send to Trump and his education secretary on Chicago’s improving academic picture.
“The President of the United States is allowed to have fake news. But, the facts are the facts about the city of Chicago,” the mayor said.
“I know he has a view, shared by our governor [who said] Chicago Public Schools are like prisons. … But it would be helpful if we didn’t run down our kids, we didn’t run down our schools, we didn’t run down our teachers and our principals, but held them up because they are leading the country in ACT gains, graduation gains, math gains and reading gains. I am immensely proud that, against great odds, these kids are accomplishing great things.”