Two different, innovative ideas for early postsecondary opportunities

In the past week, two interesting ideas for early postsecondary opportunities (EPSOs) have come across my desk.  The first is out of Chicago, where Mayor Rahm Emanuel has called for a new graduation requirement for students in Chicago Public Schools: starting with members of the class of 2020, all graduates must submit a plan for postsecondary success.  This includes a “letter of acceptance, either to a four-year college, community college, the military, or a trade.” (Fran Spielman, Chicago Sun-Times, April 5, 2017)

There’s some question as to how a local district can alter the state of Illinois’ graduation requirements, but CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson pointed out, “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.”  Mayor Emanuel highlighted the need to create a culture and a structure of expectation that all students, regardless of their background and zip code, will have a plan that bears fruit after high school graduation.

Of course, the eternal question of who will foot the bill for the initiative hangs in the air.  In Spielman’s article, she cites Ronnie Reese, a spokesman for the Chicago Teachers Union: “How much will this cost?  How many vocational programs have been defunded or eliminated from schools since [Emanuel]’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.”

Similar questions have been asked here in Memphis regarding CTE, echoing through school closure discussions, like that of Northside High, community meetings, and budget negotiations.

The next day, this headline caught my eye:  “Idaho gives education money directly to teenagers to manage themselves.

I read the article as soon as I picked my jaw up off the floor.  As Lillian Mongeau writes in The Hechinger Report, “At the beginning of this school year, the state put $4,125 in an online account for [the student Mongeau profiled] and every other Idaho seventh- through 12th-grader to spend on any academic boost they think they need to be better prepared for college.”  Many students use them on college courses and AP exams, giving them a head start on not only college credits, but also managing money and planning ahead.  This is especially helpful for students who otherwise would not be able to afford these early post-secondary experiences.

My antennae for things like this are raised because I have been following the development of the state of Tennessee’s plan to address the national Every Student Succeeds Act, the latest update of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965.  TN Succeeds was officially unveiled earlier this month, after months of tweaking and feedback from stakeholders like parents, students, teachers, school leaders, and community members.

One of the components of TN Succeeds is called Ready Graduate, and outlines the need for high school graduates to be actually ready for what comes after high school.  Ready Graduate calls for one of three options: scoring a 21+ on the ACT or completing 4 Early Postsecondary Opportunities (EPSOs) or completing 2 EPSOs and earning an industry certification on the CTE pathway.

Tennessee’s approach does not go as far as that of Chicago, with a local governing body requiring documentation of a clear path, or of Idaho, with the state giving students the freedom and means to seek out preparation for themselves.  However, just because Tennessee’s approach is more conventional does not mean that it cannot have revolutionary results.

Are there aspects of Chicago’s and Idaho’s programs that could be beneficial to students in Memphis and Tennessee as a whole?  How can we support students as they reach out for early postsecondary opportunities?