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Chicago wants high-school seniors to produce an acceptance letter before they can graduate

Graduating seniors in Chicago need a plan before they get a diploma
AP Photo/Butch Dill
You’re not done yet
  • Oliver Staley
By Oliver Staley

Business & culture editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Chicago does not believe in finding yourself. There will be no taking time off after high school in the Windy City.

Under a new proposal, high school seniors in the city’s school system will need to produce a letter of acceptance at a college, trade school, job, or from the military before they receive a diploma. The goal is to raise expectations and prepare students for a world where a high school degree is no longer a sufficient credential, said mayor Rahm Emanuel.

“That is an expectation we have for every child because that is the expectation the economy of the 21st century has for them,” Emanuel said a press conference today, according to the Chicago Tribune. “In many ways, we’re re-inventing what high school is.”

According to the city, proof of acceptable post-graduation plans include:

  • College acceptance letter
  • Military acceptance/enlistment letter
  • Acceptance at a job program (e.g. coding bootcamp)
  • Acceptance into a trades pre-apprenticeship/apprenticeship
  • Acceptance into a “gap-year” program
  • Current job/job offer letter

But policies launched with the best of reasons often have unintended consequences. Critics on Twitter were quick to point out the policy is yet another way of penalizing poverty. Poor kids are less likely to have the structures in place to apply to college or secure an internship. Rather than channeling seniors into four-year colleges, which require months if not years of preparation, the plan may wind up sending more kids to for-profit colleges offering quick acceptances, or into the military.

It also imposes a one-size-fits-all structure on an entire city’s worth of students. Sure, some kids could use a kick in the behind and requiring an acceptance letter might do it. But others might want to hike the Appalachian trail, or live in their parent’s basement and write code.

Schools have an obligation to prepare students for life outside their walls, and they need to give them the resources and guidance to know when to apply for college or take standardized tests. But 18-year olds are legal adults, and the life they choose after high school is no longer up to the city.

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