Why Virginia Settling on the GED is Probably Good News for the Region

The Washington Post reported Friday that Virginia will continue to use the GED as their high school equivalency test. The Old Dominion joins Maryland and the District of Columbia in sticking with the GED (at least for now), and it seems to me this is good news for those seeking to attain a high-school equivalency credential in the DC/VA/MD region, where the population tends to move around, especially between Washington and the surrounding counties. Those preparing for the GED in the District, for example, won’t have to start over again with a different test if they move their residency to one of the surrounding counties—a fairly common occurrence. (Same goes for GED instructors.)

I still think that ultimately the GED backlash (at least threes states—Montana, New Hampshire, and New York, have already announced that they’re going with alternative exams, and more will likely follow) might have something of a silver lining if it encourages states to take a fresh look at how to better serve adults who are seeking to attain a high school credential. The GED was never actually the only way to this in most states anyway, just by far the most popular way. But as useful as it has been to have a de facto standard with the GED, there really ought to be multiple pathways to a high school credential, with options that accommodate the many different needs and circumstances of those seeking one. And those options ought to include opportunities to simultaneously attain industry credentials, trade skills, and/or enrollment in postsecondary education. (This is why I think the GED Testing Service’s efforts to continue to dominate the market  will ultimately fail—I think they’ve just pushed along a re-thinking process at the state level that was probably going to happen anyway.)

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

The “Least Surprising Policy Position Ever”

This is old news, but I was amused by Michael Neibauer’s lede in this January 30th article for the Washington Business Journal on Walmart’s opposition to a proposed living wage law in D.C.:

In the least surprising policy position ever, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. will oppose D.C. Council legislation that would force it, and other big box retailers, to pay their employees a living wage.

Reading this article I was reminded of a statement provided to Neibauer for another Journal article back on August 28th, 2012:

“Walmart and the Walmart Foundation are dedicated to continuing and broadening our support of local organizations and important local initiatives across D.C., particularly in the critical areas of workforce development and economic opportunity, education, health & wellness and sustainability.” (my emphasis)

Grandparents and Adult Education

In many low income communities, grandparents raising children are a critically under appreciated issue. Legislation like this that supports grandparent caregivers makes sense, but as the author points out, it’s just a small piece of the kind of investment needed.

This is another gap issue that those of us involved in adult education policy need to think about as our work becomes increasingly focused on those in the workforce. Some grandparent caregivers in low-income communities have limited literacy skills, and I think it’s safe to assume that a reasonably significant proportion of them are not in the workforce, or going back to it anytime soon, if ever. But wouldn’t parenting classes and mental health programs for this population be more successful if we also increased their literacy skills? Does integrating adult education into parenting classes for those individuals makes sense? If the answer is yes, then what is our strategy for increasing adult education resources for these individuals?

Why Hasn’t Prison Education Led to Better Employment Outcomes in D.C.?

(Updated Below)

According to the Council for Court Excellence (CCE), an estimated 60,000 people in the District of Columbia have criminal records (this is roughly one in every ten persons), and about 8,000 of them return to the city each year after serving their sentences. Unfortunately, half of these individuals will end up back behind bars within three years of getting out.

Reducing recidivism improves public safety and strengthens communities, and is therefore a worthy policy goal. And the research tells us that one of the best ways to accomplish this is to provide inmates with access to education and training while they are in prison.

But it appears that education and training for incarcerated D.C. residents isn’t going to be enough unless we significantly reduce barriers to employment once people are out of prison.

Las year, CCE released a report on the employment challenges facing previously incarcerated D.C. residents after they are released. The report was based on the results of a survey of 550  formerly incarcerated individuals. Among the key findings: there was little or no difference in employment rates for those who earned a GED or job certificate before or after prison and those who did not:

The unemployment rate among survey respondents was about the same after incarceration as it had been prior to incarceration, even among those who used their time in prison productively to increase their skills. Over 30% indicated that they received a GED or higher in prison and 35% indicated receiving a job training certificate of some kind. CCE’s sample showed little or no difference in the unemployment rate for those who had earned a GED or job certificate in or after prison compared with those who had not. (my emphasis)

This finding is at odds with the findings of another recent recidivism study from another jurisdiction, conducted by Jake Cronin, a policy analyst with the Institute of Public Policy in the Truman School of Public Affairs at the University of Missouri.

Cronin studied Missouri Department of Corrections data and found that inmates who earned their GED in Missouri prisons were significantly more likely to find a job after release from prison than those who did not.

But Cronin also noted that recidivism rates went down most dramatically for those inmates had earned a GED and acquired a full-time job after release.

“Employment proves to be the strongest predictor of not returning to prison that we found,” Cronin said. “Those who have a full-time job are much less likely to return to prison than similar inmates who are unemployed. Recidivism rates were nearly cut in half for former inmates with a full-time job compared to similar inmates who are unemployed.”

It makes sense to me that education plus sustained employment has the most lasting impact on reducing recidivism. But in Missouri, at least, attaining an educational credential appears to increase the likelihood of employment, whereas in Washington it may have no effect at all. So the question is whether there are other significant barriers to employment for formerly incarcerated individuals here in the District—other than education—that may not be as prominent in Missouri. And if there are, what do we do about them?

I’ll concede that the biggest barrier to employment for many people these days is the lack of jobs to begin with. I’ll also concede that part of the problem may be that the jobs that do become available in the District may, on average, require more specialized training or post-secondary education than the jobs that are available in Missouri. (I don’t know that for certain, but it seems reasonable.) Nonetheless, there are also policies that can be put in place to make it easier for those returning from prison to find a job, and to encourage employers to hire them.

For their part, the Council for Court Excellence (CCE) believes that barriers to employment unrelated to education do exist, and in their report, they made several recommendations to address them, including, among other things, liability protection for employers and a “certificate of good standing” indicating that an individual has completed his or her sentence and is in good standing with conditions of release.

These two recommendations are the centerpiece of recent bill, the D.C. Re-entry Facilitation Amendment Act, introduced by D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson on July 10th.

UPDATE 9/27/12: My original headline (Why Hasn’t Prison Education Reduced D.C. Recidivism Rates?) was all wrong—I was making a point about employment outcomes, not recidivism rates—and was updated accordingly.