Los Angeles Public Library to Offer High School Equivalency Program

AP reporter Julie Watson reports that the Los Angeles Public Library will be partnering with educational publisher Cengage Learning to offer a high school diploma program for adults and out-of-school youth—reportedly the first time a public library system has offered such a program. The library hopes to grant high school diplomas to 150 adults in the first year.

According to Watson, the library’s director, John Szabo, has already introduced 850 online courses for continuing education and  a program that helps immigrants complete the requirements for U.S. citizenship.

It ail be interesting to see how this all plays out. It’s clear from Cengage’s press release that they expect to bring the program to other public libraries across the country.

It also marks the entry of Cengage Learning into the high school equivalency credential market.

The World Did Not End on January 1st

I get the feeling from talking to reporters covering the GED revamp that some are working under the assumption that the entire adult education system is in the process of imploding in the wake of the official launch of the new test at the start of the year.

The GED test has typically undergone a revision every decade or so. True, the 2014 changes, particularly the switch to a computer-only exam, and the increase in the cost, are likely to have more dramatic effects than previous revisions, but those effects are going to roll out gradually over the course of the next few years. We don’t know yet, for example, the extent to which computer-based testing will be a barrier for some who want to take the test, and we won’t really know—beyond individual anecdotes—until the new exam has been in place for a few years. In the short terms, there will be plenty of individual stories suggesting that the critics are right, and also many success stories (you can count on the GED Testing Service publicizing the success stories!)—but until we can study overall trends over a period of at least a few years, I would caution people from drawing broad conclusions from individual stories. (Not that I think we should ignore the stories—I’m definitely going to keep passing them along—I just think we need to understand the limitations this kind of evidence.)

We also won’t know for a while whether the efforts to align test content with new common academic standards for high schools is making much of difference to adult leaners, or providing more value to the high school credentials they earn by virtue of passing one of these exams. Reporters need to be skeptical of claims made by anyone before a reasonable amount of data is in. That holds true not just for the GED folks, but their competitors as well: CTB/McGraw-Hill’s TASC exam, and the Educational Testing Service’s HiSET.

I’ve been critical of the GED Testing Service’s rollout of the new test. Early on, I think even they would agree that communication with state adult education offices and the field was not great. I worry about how the switch from a non-profit business model to a for-profit business model in a marketplace with limited resources is going to work. The GED Testing Service’s aggressive marketing campaign has been, at best, an odd fit in the adult education world. I’m dubious about claims made by computer-based testing proponents that preparing for a computer-based exam provides learners with “real-world” computer skills much beyond the skills required to take a test on a computer—again, until more evidence is in. I’m definitely worried about imposing unnecessary barriers to adult learners without evidence that the benefits justify it. And I’m not immune to making dire predictions—if you comb the archives of this blog, you’ll surely find some. But I’m also not dismissing what teachers and others who have been working diligently over the last year to make this adjustment are saying—some are quite effusive in their praise of the new test and feel that the switch to computer-based is the way to go.

The point is, we have a long way to go before we know much about the impact of all these changes. I hope reporters who have jumped on this story looking for disaster this month will return in a year or two to look at what has actually unfolded.

Literacy and Policy Book Club: The GED “and the Role of Character in American Life”

Heckman-GEDbookThe Politico article I referenced in my last post noted the January 9th release of a new book, The Myth of Achievement Tests: The GED and the Role of Character in American Life, co-edited by  Nobel Prize-winning economist and longtime GED critic James J. Heckman. Heckman’s economic arguments in favor of investing in early childhood education have been highly influential, with both policy people and those in the business community. He has often coupled those arguments with critiques of our adult education and job training investments—particularly the GED program.

The book’s promotional material outlines the authors’ basic case against the GED:

The Myth of Achievement Tests shows that achievement tests like the GED fail to measure important life skills. James J. Heckman, John Eric Humphries, Tim Kautz, and a group of scholars offer an in-depth exploration of how the GED came to be used throughout the United States and why our reliance on it is dangerous. Drawing on decades of research, the authors show that, while GED recipients score as well on achievement tests as high school graduates who do not enroll in college, high school graduates vastly outperform GED recipients in terms of their earnings, employment opportunities, educational attainment, and health. The authors show that the differences in success between GED recipients and high school graduates are driven by character skills. Achievement tests like the GED do not adequately capture character skills like conscientiousness, perseverance, sociability, and curiosity. These skills are important in predicting a variety of life outcomes. They can be measured, and they can be taught.

Using the GED as a case study, the authors explore what achievement tests miss and show the dangers of an educational system based on them. They call for a return to an emphasis on character in our schools, our systems of accountability, and our national dialogue. (my emphasis)

I  expect the book’s discussion of “character” skills may stir up some controversy among those in the adult education field (although, obviously, it’s unwise to judge the book’s arguments based on the publisher’s brief description). In any case, because Heckman is attached to this book, I think it has the potential to be pretty influential among policy makers. Based on the description above, I don’t think there is a lot here that Heckman hasn’t argued before, but its publication in book form may bring those arguments to a wider audience, at a time when both the GED test and adult skills are  getting slightly more national attention.

Politico Describes the Revamped GED as a Potential “Cash Cow” for Testing Companies

More eye-popping language about new GED, this time from Politico (“Testing companies see cash cow in revamped GED“):

High school dropouts seeking a diploma will soon face a brand new exam system that will demand more skills from them—and yield more profits for testing companies.

The traditional GED exam, administered for more than 70 years by the nonprofit American Council on Education, will be replaced on Thursday by a buffet of options from three testing companies, two of them global for-profit firms. The new exams are all meant to better prepare students for the modern workforce. But they differ dramatically in price, length and—at least initially—in degree of difficulty.

It was amusing to think of anything related to adult education being considered a “cash cow,” so I was glad to see that the article noted the substantial reduction in federal funding for adult education since the mid-2000s. The piece also provides some interesting details about the process (and the players) which led to the GED change:

The American Council on Education has traditionally updated the exam every decade or so to keep pace with the curriculum of modern high schools. When that process began again a few years ago, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided a grant for the council to hire the Bridgespan Group, a nonprofit consulting firm.

Bridgespan advocated a completely new approach: The exam should be given online instead of on pencil and paper; it should demand more algebra and more analytical thinking; it should include more open-response questions and fewer multiple choice. And it should be aligned with the Common Core academic standards now being rolled out in K-12 classrooms nationwide.

The council didn’t have the money for such a dramatic rewrite, so it decided to team up with testing giant Pearson to create a joint venture known as the GED Testing Service, according to CT Turner, a spokesman for the venture.