NA: In this debate over low completion at community colleges, we often hear college officials say the students don't come in ready. What's your take on that? Is K-12 delivering students who are ready?
EMANUEL: Look, you're talking to a guy who got here when the graduation rate was 57% in high schools, we're now at 70%. We’ve had more Gates Scholars six of the last seven years than any other system in the country. Eight hundred million in college scholarships is a record high. Fourteen percent of our kids—the national average is 18, so we're not far off—are going to college. We have our challenges: can they read the diploma they're handed? But overall, I would say absolutely we're making significant progress that way.
NA: The foundation of all of this is increasing the high school graduation rate. If you don't, you're looking at bad outcomes.
EMANUEL: You go to any prison, the one common thread is high school dropouts. You get a graduation date, you're more likely to have them be productive, and be good citizens than the other way [of not finishing high school]. And if I can get them to the next level of education, you're almost guaranteeing it. I need to make education relevant to their economic future.
NA: What's the stakes on this? The unrest the city has had over the last year, how much of it is a sense of being utterly disconnected from opportunity?
EMANUEL: I'm doing this…to give students a sense that as they keep going they're not going to be a security officer in a building, they're going to work in that building. I'm not saying that as a negative about security guards, but the higher you go in your education, the more opportunity you have. These are not jobs, they’re careers.
Here's the other thing that is relevant. We just announced Dunbar High School, we're going to redesign it, it's going to be our trade school for carpenters, electricians, we're going to have one school totally focused on the trades, a citywide school. If you don't want to go to college, a community college or a four-year institution, we have a high school educational model for you. Every branch of the armed services runs a high school in the city of Chicago, no other city. We have 12,500 kids in the junior ROTC, the largest in America. So if you want to go to West Point, you want to go into the armed services, we've got the educational model. You want to become a painter, a plumber, a bricklayer? We've got a model. You want to go to college, we've got a Star Scholarship. We are going to be the first city that has figured out how to make 12th grade a pit stop on your education rather than your destination. We have a responsibility to prepare you.
NA: At the community colleges, they've also been rethinking remediation. Students feel like they're treading water. On one hand you have to equip them and on the other, they don't feel like they're getting ahead.