During an interview with CBS last week, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel introduced the “Learn Plan Succeed” plan, which intends to motivate students to think about their future far before it’s time to cross the high school graduation stage.

In fact, the plan serves as a new requirement in order for students to receive their diploma.

“You won’t be able to graduate … unless you show that letter of acceptance to any one of the four outlets we talked about: college, community college, armed services or a trade,” said Emanuel.

Upon hearing the news, concerns poured in across social media questioning what the new rule means for underprivileged students.

EBONY caught up with the Chicago Public Schools’ Chief Education Officer, Dr. Janice Jackson to gain clarity on what the new graduation plan really indicates and how, in addition to students, teachers are being held accountable for the role they play in the life of undergrads.

EBONY: What a lot of people want to understand is exactly what this plan indicates. Also, what has been the reaction from students and parents?

Dr. Janice Jackson: I really want to make sure that people receive it in the spirit of which it’s coming and that they know that there really isn’t a reason to have a lot of fear.  In the State of Illinois, it’s already a requirement that you have to take the college entrance exam, which used to be the ACT, whether you plan to go to college or not.  That changed 15 years ago. When the State of Illinois introduced this, our local districts made that change, people had a similar reaction. If you look at the data now, you see far more graduates, not only in Chicago, but throughout the state. When the State of Illinois decided that everybody had to take that exam, we saw far more students realizing their potential. We’re trying to do the exact same thing with a college plan. What we’re insuring is that they have a plan in their back pocket when they graduate.

EBONY: What does that plan look like?

Jackson: The way that it looks is that just like they currently do now, they’ll work with their school counselors and identify their post-secondary plan. Right now, we have 59 percent of our kids who do that. As you can imagine, the students who sit down and come up with a plan are more likely to actually show up to that destination in fall, whether it’s the military, a two-year college, four-year college, some kind of apprenticeship program. This is building on a lot of the work that we’ve already been doing, making early college an option for kids by increasing our dual-enrollment and doing a credit program, instituting the Star scholarship, which takes our high-performing kids who can’t go off to a four-year college or choose to go to city colleges, and we pay their tuition because we’re trying to break down the barriers so that they have access to college. That’s really what this is all about. Making sure they actually have a plan because we really believe that that’s going to lead to their success.


EBONY: In reality, we have teachers who are there for the check and that’s it. Is there something in place where teachers are forced to level up and be held accountable for what’s happening inside the classroom as well as their role to the students outside? 

Dr. Janice Jackson: It’s actually a good question. The other piece of this that hasn’t gotten as much attention is that we have something called a School Quality Rating, which is how every school is rated here in Chicago. It’s a list of metrics that schools are rated on. They get points. Then, they’re deemed high quality or to varying degrees. We are putting this inside of the School Quality Rating, so schools are going to be held accountable, too, so it’s not just the children.  I also should say that our counselors currently provide guidance and support to their students. We also know that they need more training, which is part of the investment. We’re providing something called a Early College Advising Credential. We set a goal of having at least one counselor in every high school have that credential a few years ago. We’ve almost completed that goal. It’s been widely successful, so much so that we’re now trying to make sure every counselor in a Chicago public high school has this credential.

EBONY: And what exactly does this credential represent?

Dr. Janice Jackson: Really, what this credential is, it’s above and beyond their degree. It’s an intensive set of clock hours that counselors can take where they get trained on the college advising piece.  We have some early data that shows that students who are advised by counselors who have this type of support are doing better. We’re really excited about a lot of the promising early data that we see around some of these activities.

EBONY: Why make this an absolute requirement as opposed to instilling this in students, which seems like something that’s already in progress with the school system? Why add this extra component, like now it’s, you have to have this?

Dr. Janice Jackson: Because guess what? When you put out stuff like this, and we look at the data, the people whose families are pushing them to go off to post-secondary options, the kids who are lucky enough to go to school that are organized around this, they’re doing it anyway, but when you do a deeper scan, the communities that you and I are probably most worried about, it’s not happening. Yeah, we’re graduating them, and we celebrate our graduation success. We’re up to 73.5% now, but what hope are we giving a kid if we turn them loose at the end of June of their graduation year without a plan? For me, sometimes, you have to mandate things in order to take it to the next level. If we do a scan of who’s doing it and who’s accessing it, it’s the kids who have a lot of support already in place, whether it’s family support or school support. I want to make that universal.

Follow Dr. Jackson on Twitter to keep up with CPS developments.