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Chicago Public Schools announces new graduation requirement

Chicago is the first large urban district to implement the Learn.Plan.Succeed program
Chicago is the first large urban district in the country to implement Learn.Plan.Succeed. (Gettyimages.com: miteemaus5).
Chicago is the first large urban district in the country to implement Learn.Plan.Succeed. (Gettyimages.com: miteemaus5).

Chicago Public Schools will require a new first-of-its-kind program to ensure all students leave high school with a post-graduation plan. Starting with the past year's freshmen class, every student must have their Learn.Plan.Succeed plan approved to graduate.

Chicago is the first large urban district in the country to implement the program, which many city schools have successfully implemented on their own, according to the district’s communications office.

Student plans can include a college or military acceptance letter, a job offer or entrance into a trade program—any piece of evidence showing their post-graduation activity.

The board of education in May also unanimously approved a robust financial education course and a more rigorous sequence of science courses designed to equip students for STEM fields.

In 2016, 41 percent of Chicago graduates earned at least one early college and career credential, such as AP or IB credit, dual credit, or a CTE certificate. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s goal is to increase that to 50 percent by 2019.

Learn.Plan.Succeed

Implementation: Class of 2020

Summary of Changes: Requires students to prove they have a postsecondary plan to graduate, potentially including:

  • College acceptance letter
  • Military acceptance/enlistment letter
  • Acceptance into a job program, such as coding boot camp
  • Acceptance into a trades pre-apprenticeship/apprenticeship
  • Acceptance into a gap-year program
  • Current job/job offer letter

Waivers will be developed to accommodate students with extenuating circumstances.

More guidance necessary

Guidance counselors will need additional training to help students develop their life plans. Chicago is building counselors’ skills through the Chicago Higher Education Compact, a partnership with area colleges and universities.

The compact developed the Chicago College Advising Credential training, which consists of eight days of PD focused on guiding students toward higher education. Counselors learn how to convince students—particularly in schools with many first-generation college-goers—they can earn a degree.

About 40 percent of the district’s counselors have been certified, says Janice K. Jackson, Chicago’s chief education officer. Working with the mayor, the district is raising about $1 million to provide eight additional college and career coaches. And the district plans to hire additional postsecondary counselors for schools with high minority populations.

Because so many students are first-generation college-goers, the district now offers additional, year-long senior seminar classes that teach the details of the college application process and financial aid. While Chicago administrators are convinced that Learn.Plan.Succeed is the way to go, other educators are not sure.

Stacy Davis Gates, legislative and political director of the Chicago Teachers Union, says schools may not have the capacity for the program.

“We have schools that do not have libraries. We have schools that do not have world languages. We have schools that are not offering AP classes,” Gates says. “The basic infrastructure for this type of objective is not even available across the district.”

Chicago does not have enough counselors to make Learn.Plan.Succeed anything more than another obstacle, Gates says, pointing out that 63 percent of all high schools have a student-to-counselor ratio that is higher than the recommended level.

“How do you add an additional requirement without making a commitment to resource these school communities?” she asks.

The district, however, believes it is pioneering advancements in college access and boosting graduation rates. “More students are coming to school and being successful,” says Jackson. “Our next goal is college readiness. We’re letting students know that a high school diploma is not the North Star. To be successful, they need to have a postsecondary plan.”


Ellen Ullman is a freelance writer in Boston.