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!

Economic Argument for Adult Education Still Has Some Life in Maryland

On Wednesday night, during his annual State of the County address, Montgomery Maryland County Executive Leggett announced something that sort of sounded like a big push to expand adult English literacy services in Montgomery County, which he called “English Language on Demand.” It’s not clear what exactly this initiative will include—in particular, whether there will be significant new funding involved. (One thing for sure, there is excellent umbrella organization—Montgomery Coalition for Adult English Literacy—that does a tremendous job supporting local adult English literacy programs in Montgomery County. They would surely do great things with more funding should it become available.)

But I wanted to highlight a statistic that he cited during this announcement, because it’s a rare example where an old report—you know, those reports that usually just gather dust on a shelf somewhere—actually seems to have resurrected itself (at least one small piece of it). And the fact that the piece in question is an economic return-on-investment argument is encouraging.

The report I’m thinking of is Stepping Up to the Future, a 2005 report by a panel put together by the Maryland Schools Superintendent to make recommendations on improving adult education throughout the state. Leggett cited a nugget of economic data that I’ve only seen in that report—I’ve never been able to get a hold of the original source of the data. Specifically, when he said during the speech that “every dollar we invest in adult English language training… brings us three dollars in higher productivity,” that appears to be derived from an analysis, commissioned by the panel, of adult education and wage data by a group called ORC Macro. They found, among other things, that “every dollar invested in adult education [in Maryland] yields a return of $3.15.” That’s not exactly what Leggett said—he was talking specifically about English language training, and not in the whole state but just in the county—but I’ll bet that’s where that statistic  comes from. And if it’s sort of a sloppy appropriation of it (assuming I’m right), it doesn’t matter. The important thing here is the suggestion that policymakers in Maryland accept the notion that investing in adult education has positive economic returns.

Anyway, it’s always great to hear support for adult education in one of these annual speeches, and credit is due to Leggett for proposing it. It will be interesting to see where it goes.

Here are Leggett’s comments on his “English on Demand” proposal in full:

My second initiative is English Language on Demand. In Montgomery, our residents speak many different languages – and that’s good. But here, and increasingly around the world, mastering English is the ticket to opportunity and success. When you speak English, you not only learn another language, you also improve your chances of getting a good job – and then getting a better one. It is the ticket to growing your business and to building a better future for your family — which increases the County’s overall tax base.

I recommend as a goal that every adult in this County who wants to learn English – no matter where they come from – has the opportunity to do so. For every dollar we invest in adult English language training, it brings us three dollars in higher productivity. So, let’s invest the necessary resources to help shorten and, in time, eliminate the long waiting lists for individuals seeking the opportunity to learn English. And, we should also encourage County residents to become “teaching volunteers” in our County English language learning network.