December 26, 2008

The mixed value of GEDs

This morning in the St Pete Times, Ron Matus has a short article discussing the mixed reception GED recipients know they'll have in the world. Some earning GEDs have already faced life's curveballs interviews several adults who have received or are studying for their GED. According to one,

Samantha Fenwick knows all about the stigma. "People think if you got a GED, there must be something wrong with you, or you did something wrong," she says.

Fenwick doesn't need to refer to the GED work of James Heckman and others (though I'm a bit surprised Matus didn't): It's no longer a surprise or controversial that GED recipients benefit a little by earning the alternative diploma, but that it is not the same as a standard high school degree.

Nor should it be a surprise that the meaning of a GED lies partly beyond the credential effect. For some who take the GED test, it is a matter of respect, or sometimes family relationships, and there is almost a subgenre of articles about GED recipients showing their children (or their grandchildren) the importance of education.

The problem comes in assuming that the GED is the same as a high school diploma for public-policy purposes. If you think it's the same, then there's no problem shuttling lots of high school students into a GED program that's essentially test prep/warehousing. And that's how Florida currently measures graduation rates. If you think that the GED is better than nothing, but not the same as a high school diploma, then you let students go that route when they are far behind in credits, but you do not let high schools get credit for those students as having graduated. 

There is also the question of what is "far behind" enough in academic credits to justify that type of decision, and I do not know of a single study that looks at that. The data's there in adminsitrative records, and it would make a good project for someone who has the time and analytical skills.

Listen to this article
Tags: dropouts, GEDs, good dissertation project
Posted in Education policy on December 26, 2008 10:33 AM |