Education Week - April 19, 2017 - 6
Chicago Wants to Know Students' College, Career Plans
Proposal would set
By Evie Blad
"What are you doing after graduation?" High school students may
grow weary of such inevitable questions from family and friends, or
anxiety-ridden as they contemplate
their college or career decisions. But
now, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
has proposed requiring students to
report more formally on their postgraduation plans in order to get
Emanuel has proposed a new graduation requirement for the city's high
school students: a letter of acceptance
to a college or university or proof of
employment, military enlistment, or
participation in a gap-year program.
If the nation's third-largest school
system implements the plan, it would
be breaking new ground. While many
districts work to educate students
about postgraduation options and
to track their experiences, no major
school system asks students for tangible proof of their future plans.
"High school graduation is a milestone, not a destination," Emanuel
said when he announced the proposal with school leaders.
The plan-called Learn. Plan.
Succeed-would include extra train-
ing for school counselors in helping
students complete college and career planning. It is designed to help
students be more future-minded,
which will lead to more engagement
in school, Chicago officials say. If adopted by the school board, it would
first apply to 2020 graduates.
Carrots vs. Sticks
The proposal faced pushback from
critics who argued that it is too
heavy-handed, and that some students, particularly those from lowincome families, would have a harder
time securing college acceptance or
employment before graduation. Chicago schools may not have enough
support staff or other resources to
properly engage and support some
students as they plot a postgraduation path, those critics said.
"Perhaps the mayor could try some
carrot approaches rather than using
a stick," Joni Finney, the director of
the Institute for Research on Higher
Education at the University of Pennsylvania, said in a statement.
Finney suggested that, rather than
new graduation mandates, the schools
should offer acknowledgments of college acceptance on students' diplomas,
work-study opportunities to give them
professional exposure in high school,
and other incentives.
Emanuel's proposal was met with
support from people like former U.S.
6 | EDUCATION WEEK | April 19, 2017 | www.edweek.org
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan,
who served in the Obama administration with Emanuel and previously
led the Chicago schools.
"To give every single student in
Chicago a better chance, we need to
invest in our schools and our counseling programs," Duncan wrote in
an opinion piece in the Chicago Tribune. "We need to make life-planning as much a part of high school as
English, math, sports, and the arts."
Chicago has been increasingly
concerned with students' postgraduation lives. The system tracks
students' college-going rates and
their persistence in degree programs. Emanuel also set a goal
last year that by 2019, at least half
of students will graduate with at
least one college or career credential, such as a dual-enrollment or
Advanced Placement credit. About
40 percent of graduates have such
Learn. Plan. Succeed. was designed with input from district
leaders and principals, said Alan
Mather, the chief officer of Chicago's
office of college and career success.
About 60 percent of Chicago high
school graduates already provide
proof of postgraduate planning, he
said, and the new proposal is designed to close the gap.
The plan includes using $1 million in philanthropic contributions
to help all school counselors earn a
district-developed college-career-advising credential. About 40 percent
of counselors have the credential,
Schools would also add a new indicator to their accountability rating that tracks what percentage of
graduates have completed college
and career planning, he said. Every
Chicago student who is on track to
graduate is given admission to the
City Colleges of Chicago, he said,
giving them an accessible option for
"We don't anticipate that this will be
a barrier to students," Mather said. "In
fact, we think it will be an impetus to
really come up with a plan."
Schools around the country have increasingly have sought to use discussions of college and career as tools for
engagement in the classroom.
Discussing college and careers can
affect student motivation, but schools
must match that talk with resources
and supports that help students take
the tangible steps necessary to reach
their goals, said Mesmin Destin, an
associate professor of psychology and
education at Northwestern University, in nearby Evanston, Ill.
"Young people are constantly picking up on cues about what kind of future is going to be available to them,"
Destin has found that giving 7th
grade students information about
the college financial aid that may be
available to them in the future can
affect their school engagement in the
"Just telling kids what they need
to do is not the same as providing
context and support to make that
vision a reality," he said.
Destin didn't weigh in specifically
on Chicago's plan.
The most important question Chicago should ask about its proposal
is how students will perceive it, said
Gregory Walton, an associate professor of psychology at Stanford University who studies student motivation.
Researchers have found that
students are driven to rise to high
expectations if they have a sense
that adults in their school believe in
their potential and if they see school
as a supportive and fair place.
"It's not simply about stating a
high expectation," Walton said. "It's
also about showing students that
you really think they can meet those
expectations and that you are creating a system where that is possible.
That's where they can really thrive."
Coverage of learning mindsets and
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