Emanuel promises 85 percent graduation rate in a second term | WBEZ
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Emanuel promises 85 percent graduation rate if elected to second term

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is promising an 85 percent graduation rate by 2019, if he's elected to a second term.

In an invitation-only event, Emanuel said the future of the city depends on it.

“There’s no challenge the city’s facing, and no opportunity we can’t seize, that doesn’t get answered on graduation day at high schools,” Emanuel said. “Not one.”

Last school year, CPS hit an all-time high, with 69.8 percent of students making it through high school in at least five years.

To get the dramatic increase he wants, Emanuel said high schools will re-launch a program that his administration cut in 2012.  It's called Freshman Connection. The month-long summer program introduced rising freshman to their high school, and made sure they were academically and socially prepared.

Jesse Sharkey, acting-president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said the gains in graduation numbers and the focus on freshman is a result of previous administrations’ efforts, not Emanuel’s.

“We were paying attention to that six years ago, when I was in a classroom,” Sharkey said. Sharkey was a history teacher at Senn High School before being elected to CTU leadership.

He also noted that graduation rates are improving all across the country because “there aren’t very many good options for people who don’t stay in school.”

Freshman Connection isn’t the only initiative in Emanuel’s second term education agenda that was borrowed from the past.

He said, if elected, he will allow high-performing schools a free pass from most central office mandates, including around things like curriculum, standardized tests and budget. Ironically, his schools team cut a program that did just that. Some schools were designated as Autonomous Management Performance Schools—or AMPS—and were able to set their own curriculum and opt-out of many district mandates.

The new version would label schools that are high-performing three years in a row as “Independent Schools.” When asked about the criteria that would determine if a school is high-performing, CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said she is putting together a task force to determine that.

However, Byrd-Bennett bristled at the idea that it was the same as the old AMPS designation.

If elected to a second term, Emanuel also promised to:

-        Increase the graduation rate at City Colleges to 21 percent by 2018.

-        Make computer science a high school graduation requirement.

-        Expand the number of full-day pre-school classrooms from 100 to 300.

-        Improve the city’s high schools by giving them specialty programs, like International Baccalaureate, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math), and fine arts.

-        Double the bandwidth in every school so every classroom has a WiFi connection.

-        Double the number of parent engagement centers at schools from 31 to 62 by 2017.

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