Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (D) speaks during a discussion at the Brookings Institution on Dec. 9 in Washington. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

What exactly is Rahm Emanuel talking about?

The controversial Chicago mayor has advanced a new proposal requiring all high school seniors who want to get a diploma to show that they have post-graduation plans by providing written proof that they have been accepted — not merely applied to — by a college, a gap-year program or the military. Proof of a job works too.

Emanuel can’t enforce his plan without approval of the Chicago Board of Education, which he can strongly influence, but the proposal has already been attacked on so many quarters that it is not clear what will happen.

Emanuel at a news conference this week said he wants students to think beyond high school and plan for what comes after. “Just like you do with your children, college, post-high school, that is what’s expected. If you change expectations, it’s not hard for kids to adapt.”

The Chicago Tribune noted a reality that appears to make the whole thing a useless exercise, reporting:

A top CPS official also acknowledged, however, that every Chicago public high school graduate essentially already meets the new standard because graduation guarantees admittance to the City Colleges of Chicago community college system.

Students could apply to community college, get accepted, show the proof, get the diploma and not attend if they didn’t want. That makes one wonder why Emanuel raised the issue in the first place, opening himself up to enormous criticism from people saying he is out of touch with how many of the residents in the city he leads live.

Miranda Johnson, associate director of the Education Law and Policy Institute at Loyola University’s School of Law, was quoted by the Tribune as saying that the plan was unrealistic given the realities that confront many students. She said students who work with legal clinics at the law school often live in foster care or are disabled.

“I think the goals are really laudable,” Johnson said of Emanuel’s proposal. “I just think that the challenges are the supports available for the students to enable them to do that. And if they fail to be able to secure an acceptance by the time they graduate, should they then be penalized by the withholding of a high school diploma?”

Other critics were more direct: