No One Could Have Predicted…

More discouraging news, this time from WRVO in New York:

New York replaced the GED because the test’s price tag was set to double this year. The new test gives students the same credentials – the equivalent of a high school diploma. Statewide pass rates are down by four percent after the switch, compared to 2012. The number of test-takers also fell by half.

First of all, that is a classic example of a buried lead, in paragraph form. I view a 4% pass rate drop as actually pretty good news, considering that they’ve switched to a completely different exam. The real news is that the number of test-takers has fallen by half. That is not an “also”—that is the story.

And to what do we attribute this dramatic decrease in the number of test-takers? In states that stuck with the GED, the drop off is attributed by critics to the higher cost and difficulty of the revised GED. In New York, they have a different problem:

Bruce Carmel, director at the Bronx Youth Center and a co-chair at the New York City Coalition for Adult Literacy, says there was a lot of misinformation about the new test.“You heard some people saying, ‘Oh, there’s no more GED,” he says. “So when people heard there was no more GED test, a lot of people thought it was over and you couldn’t get your high school equivalency diploma anymore.”

Sometimes it seems like if we had tried to come up with a plan to intentionally discourage adults from earning their high school equivalency we could not have done a better job. I know this is not in fact what anyone intended (including the test publishers), and I don’t want to the discount the heroic work that the adult education community has done to transition to these new exams. We’d be in even worse shape without their efforts. (And I wish the media would pay as much attention to that as they do to the poor numbers.) Nor is this a criticism of the decision in New York to replace the GED. But the dramatic drop we are experiencing around the country in the number of people seeking a high school equivalency diploma as a result of these changes should not have been unexpected. Some honest, no-finger-pointing reflection on how we ended up in such a situation might help us take steps to ensure that it doesn’t happen again. And while eventually this all may eventually shake out for the better, let’s not forget about the folks who gave up on high school equivalency during this transition, and what the future likely holds for them.

Good Ideas Can Be Dressed Up in Bad Proposals

I don’t have an opinion about this, or any useful information to share with you that might help you form your own opinion about it, but I do think it’s worth pointing out that questioning whether the people proposing this kind of financing know what they’re doing does not necessarily mean you are anti-technology or against computers in schools or don’t believe the future is our children etc. As this article notes, the interest alone on $2 billion in bonds could buy a lot of stuff.

One of the things I’m doing in my actual job is to better understand how communities identify the best ways for technology to drive what they are tryying to accomplish, and figure out how to pay for those tools they need in a responsible and effective way. Taking on a lot of debt to do so may not be the best approach. (Again, not saying it’s a bad idea, just that it may not be.)


Immigration Reform Scams

I’m not surprised that this is happening, and I wonder if confusion among some immigrants has been compounded by the landmark gay rights rulings that occurred around the same time the comprehensive immigration reform bill passed in the Senate. The press covered the Senate passage as a victory (which it was), but for those who do not follow the inner workings of the legislative process closely—and/or who are unfamiliar with our legislative process in general—it may have appeared that something with the country’s immigration laws and procedures had suddenly changed, when in fact we are just one step along in what may be a long (and possibly futile) process to make those changes.

Unlike legislation, which not only has to pass both the Senate and the House, and then be signed by the president, (and even then, may have implementation dates far off in the future, like most of the provisions in the Affordable Care Act), SCOTUS rulings can have an immediate impact on policy, as it did with the gay rights cases, and I can understand why it might have appeared that something similar was happening with immigration policy, based on the understandable excitement over the passage of the Senate bill.

See: Avoid immigration reform scams – New York adult literacy |

GED President Presses New York to Pass the Cost Increase of the New GED Onto the Test Takers

There’s a good article in a recent edition of Crain’s New York Business for those interested in the changes coming in 2014 to the General Education Development test (more widely known as the GED), which I’ve previously written about here, and here. Not a lot of new information—but some interesting perspective from state officials in New York, and some interesting quotes from officials at the GED Testing Service, now a for-profit venture headed up by the British media company Pearson. A lot of the concern over the increased cost of the revamped test is coming out of New York because it is one of the only states in the country that prohibits charging fees to people who take the test—many states subsidize the costs to some degree, but in New York, the state picks up the full cost. According to the article, this will require New York taxpayers to pony up an additional $3 million annually to cover the anticipated increase in the cost of the assessment.

Interestingly, the President of the GE Testing Service, Randall Trask, told Crain’s that not only should New York change the law that prohibits test-takers from paying a fee—in other words, that they should pass the cost increase onto the test-takers, not the taxpayers—but that doing so will “make the test more widely available.” New York officials think the price hike will make the exam less accessible. They have tried to convince the GED Testing Service to rethink the fee increase and delay the release of the new exam, but told Crain’s they haven’t been able to get them to budge.

Molly Corbett Broad, president of the American Council on Education, which partners with Pearson on the for-profit venture, was really pushing the idea that the current test is out of date—so woefully out of date, in fact, that she comes close to suggesting that denying people access to the new assessment one second longer than necessary is going to leave them destitute:

“The existing test is so out of date that we need to make available at the earliest possible time the kind of examination that will prepare folks for work and college,” she said. “Putting it off only results in another generation of individuals denied the opportunity to prepare for jobs that will allow them to support their families. This is an issue of crisis for our country, so we wanted to move as quickly as we possibly could.”

But later in the article, Kevin Smith, the New York Deputy Commissioner for Adult Career and Continuing Education Services, calls the January 2014 deadline “arbitrary.”

The article claims that as many as 25 state are looking into the possibility of dropping the GED altogether, including possibly California, which is “weighing its options.” If Pearson loses the New York and California market, would the GED still be viable as a  for-profit venture?

On the other hand, switching over to a different assessment may prove just as difficult. While I know at least one state director of adult education who is confident that a new assessment could be ready to go as an option to the GED by January of 2014, I also know that sometimes state directors underestimate the amount of work required at the program level to implement major systematic changes, including the professional development that could be needed to re-train teachers on how to help prepare people for a new test:

“Pursuing alternative pathways is important, but we are racing the clock,” said Sierra Stoneman-Bell, co-director of the Neighborhood Family Services Coalition. “With only 16 months to go, there is no clear plan for New York to transition to the new GED test or alternative assessments.”

Kevin Smith told Crain’s that “[w]e do have some viable alternatives, but our concern is whether those alternatives can get up and running because of the arbitrary time frame created by GED Testing Service,” and warns that if January 2014 rolls around and there are no viable options, including the GED, “there will be a political and public relations maelstrom that will not be pretty.”

Just like the “fiscal cliff” that is looming in January of 2103 for the federal budget due to sequestration, the U.S. adult education system seems to be headed for a credential cliff* in January of 2014. Kevin is right: like sequestration, the GED deadline is clearly arbitrary—and avoidable. I can’t find a source anywhere that makes the case that hitting the pause button on this thing is going to hurt anyone (although I recognize it will probably cost Pierson a lot of money), but it appears that in some parts of the country, at least, that there is a growing risk that the switch may make it more difficult for some adults to access high-school equivalent credentials, if only because states aren’t ready for it. This isn’t a question of whether the new assessment is an improvement, or is necessary—it’s a question of how you introduce a dramatic change in a marketplace that is not equipped to adapt quickly. The GED Testing Service seems to be putting a lot of effort into winning the PR war (and also, to be fair, putting a lot of effort in assisting states to make the transition); hopefully, behind the scenes, they are working even harder to negotiate some kind of compromise with the states that will make this feel more like a leap forward than a drop off a cliff.

(h/t David Rosen)