Getting a GED: A Second Chance
The GED Program as Redemption
Why We Need the GED Program
About five years ago I was asked to speak by my local college at a fancy dinner for its donors. I was petrified, to say the least. However, the minute I got up there and took that mike, my fears melted away as I found myself just speaking from my heart. I thanked the current donors for giving someone like me a second chance at her dreams, as I told them that one day I’d be teaching their children and grandchildren, and thousands of other future students. I thanked them for that, and reminded them that it was through their generosity that I was able to finally, after years and years of thinking that it was too late, to achieve my dream of teaching. I explained that by helping me—just one person—they will affect thousands of students and families in the years to come. I explained that just like throwing a rock into a pond, the ripples will continue out indefinitely, touching everything in their path, and that I was that rock. Then I told them that in order to help others like me, they needed to give more. Months previous to that dinner, I also told the attendees of a board meeting that I thought life had passed me by and that my chance at success had come and gone. I thought the train had left without me and the station was closed. As it turns out, the station was still open and there was another train, with room on it for me! In fact, there is always another train with plenty of room on it for many people just like me. Yes, with the GED program, there is room for redemption in a person’s life
Sadly, though, there are a lot of people who are opposed to the GED and think that the GED program should be abolished. These people do not see the GED as redemption, but rather, they are under the impression that the GED is simply the easy way out for lazy, unmotivated youth. They are unequivocally wrong, and if you subscribe to this mindset, you are mistaken, as well. I realize that this is a mighty bold statement to make, but I make it with the courage of my convictions. I understand that you may not completely comprehend the context and the realities of the GED program.
There are many people who need the redemption, or a second chance, that the GED provides. Believe me, I sure needed it, and if there was no GED program for people like me, I would not have a shadow of the life that I have right now. The GED was my second chance to attain my dream of teaching adolescents; something I have dreamed of doing since I was eight years old. Unfortunately, for many students, life is huge, looming, dark and very painful. It threatens to swallow us whole. We drop out because the emotional and mental difficulty we face every day is just too heavy to bear. We can barely focus on daily survival, let alone academic success. We are the at-risk students. We are the ones who teachers look at, and think, “They’re not going to make it…” The GED is a way to get your life back if you have lost it. It is a second chance to be the success that you were always meant to be. Abolishing the GED will not lower the dropout rate, and using threats or persuasion will not keep at-risk students in school. In fact, preventing drop out is extremely difficult, no matter what program is implemented (Dynarski & Gleason, 2002). Therefore, the logic that we can force students to stay in school because it is their only option is very flawed. Yes, those who earn a GED are still statistically considered dropouts. We may be statistical dropouts, but we’re still citizens who are now able to participate in higher education and our communities, and to lead our families by example. We can be on the Dean’s list, be members of honors societies, earn perfect GPAs, win scholarships, publish papers, tutor others and assist disabled students. Many GED earners can turn their lives around and accomplish major endeavors. Just because the NCLB act doesn’t recognize the GED doesn’t mean that it’s not valid.
The GED Isn't Easy
The GED is redemption for those who earn it. I do mean EARN. It is not, as many people think, walking in, handing someone a check, and saying, “Give me my certificate.” Many students go through the four years of high school just skating by, or staying under the radar, and still do not comprehend the content. I see this quite often in my 8th graders. The GED is literally cramming this content into three months of classes. There were days when I thought that I would give up. The GED says, “There’s room for you on the train! It’s not too late for you to be a success!”
You see, when one person can get her GED, it positively affects everyone in her path! It helps the person, her family, her neighborhood, her community, her town, her state, her country and her society. If you think that going back to take the GED test is “the easy way out,” you are very incorrect. It takes a lot of work, the test is grueling and you must make a certain score to pass. In fact, you must test at a certain level in order to even take the test. Therefore, you are taking a test to take the test. In addition to this, many people have work and families to support while they study or take classes to prepare for it. Additionally, it is a hard decision to make because many people think that it is too late for them. They think they are too busy or too dumb or they are embarrassed. Going back to get a GED is one of the hardest decisions a person can make, many times because of the stigma attached. Let me tell you, the decision to get my GED was the first brick in my yellow brick road!
Experts Say: We Need the GED
Some will argue that employers look down on GED earners. Regarding employer acceptance of the GED: “more than 95% of employers do. Many employers are happy to accept the GED certificate because the score sheet provides specific information as to the skills mastered” (Truckee Meadows Community College, 2011). I agree that getting a GED is more common now, because a GED is needed more than ever now in order to make a living. In 2007, at least 30% of those lacking a high school diploma were at or below the poverty level (American Council on Education, 2009). Therefore, abolishing the GED would have devastating effects for our nation and its participation in global competition. Successful, educated people make a stronger nation. I agree that there are lazy students, but there is nothing that we can do about that; we will never be able to fix laziness, for it is a flaw of human nature. However, for those who want to work for a second chance, they should have that chance. In fact, to allow them that chance only strengthens our communities. According to Elizabeth Zachry (2010): “Over their working lives, people who do not complete high school are more likely to endure numerous hardships—from a greater chance of health problems to higher rates of unemployment, job turnover, and welfare dependency” (pg. 75). Another study shows that although a GED earner is more likely to enter poverty than a graduate, a GED holder is also more likely to exit poverty than a non-holder of a GED (Georges, 2001).
According to Molly Corbett Broad (2009), President of the American Council on Education in the 2008 GED Testing Program Statistical Report from Washington, D.C.:
"Since the inception of the GED testing program more than 60 years ago, its vital role has never diminished. Indeed, the program is now more critical than ever as the nation grapples with the worst economic decline in generations. As we work toward the goal of creating and sustaining an educated, motivated American workforce, we should pause to reflect on the program’s reach and success… The GED testing program remains a critical component in moving adults closer to their aspirations of expanded access to job opportunities, post secondary education, and personal fulfillment. These successful GED graduates join the ranks of more than 17 million others who have been awarded a GED credential since the tests were first administered in 1942. I heartily congratulate their success and join each new credential recipient in celebrating this life milestone… Earning a credential will open a multitude of doors during a graduate’s lifetime… This second chance will help ensure that we reclaim America’s most important national resource—educated and empowered citizens” (pg. iv).
A Second Chance
Recently, I had a discussion with a classmate who thinks that the GED should be done away with. I wholeheartedly disagree with her statement, “…the GED program should be abolished because of the times we live in.” It’s exactly because of the times that we live in that we need the GED more than ever! I do, however, agree with her on the fact that it is becoming increasingly used by teens as an alternative to finishing high school. The GED used to have restrictions. At one time, you had to be 20 to get it, because it was meant to discourage dropouts (Rachal & Bingham, 2004). The GED is now being earned by more teens than ever. Let us keep in mind that cutting off these teens’ access to the GED will not stop most of them from dropping out; only school improvement will (Alliance for Excellent Education, 2007). When we improve our schools and the way that we instruct and assess learning, thereby engaging these students more effectively, more of them will complete high school. When we find more effective strategies to address the needs of at-risk students, more of them will experience academic success, rather than failure.
The GED program sends a message to dropouts that they are not losers, that they can still achieve success and they can have a future for themselves and their families. It is a program very much needed for those who cannot finish high school for one reason or another. I think that there should be more GED advocacy in our communities, and I would love to be a part of that. Many communities and districts are really working hard to address the needs of at-risk students. It is true that keeping these students engaged will help them stay in school and graduate. But what if our strategies to keep them engaged so they can graduate do not meet their needs? What about teens with life challenges that cannot be overcome while they are in school, thereby getting them to graduation? Should we deny at-risk students a GED with the logic that “they had their chance?” Would the threat of never receiving a diploma keep these students from dropping out? No, probably not.
The drop out and GED debate will no doubt carry on, and there is no easy or quick answer. Only by implementing best practices and effective strategies for school improvement and student retention will we see a decrease in the dropout rate. Until then, we need the GED program to help ensure an education for all of our citizens.
America is all about freedom and opportunity… That includes the freedom to get an education and to be able to pursue our dreams through that education; no matter if it’s sooner or later. America is the land of second chances. Let us remember these concepts, as we work to teach them to our students...
Alliance for Excellent Education. (2007). The High cost of high school dropouts. What the nation pays for inadequate high schools. Issue Brief. Retrieved from http://www.all4ed.org/files/archive/publications/HighCost.pdf
American Council on Education. (2009). 2008 GED testing program statistical report. Retrieved fromhttp://www.sbctc.edu/public/abepds/2008_statistical_report.pdf
Dynarski, M., & Gleason, P. (2002). How Can We Help? What We Have Learned From Recent Federal Dropout Prevention Evaluations. Journal of Education for Students Placed at Risk, 7(1), 43-69.
Georges, A. (2001). The GED certificate and the poverty status of adult women. Journal of Children & Poverty, 7(1), 49-61. doi:10.1080/10796120120038037
Rachal, J. R., & Bingham, M. J. (2004). The Adolescentizing of the ged. Adult Basic Education, 14(1), 32-44.
Truckee Meadows Community College. (2011). GED frequently asked questions. Retrieved from http://www.tmcc.edu/ged/faq/.
Zachry, E. M. (2010). Who Needs a Second Chance? The Challenge of Documenting K-12 Dropout and Why Adult Educators Should Be Concerned. Adult Basic Education & Literacy Journal, 4(2), 75-85.
©December 16, 2012 purplmama