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— a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis,
supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Approximately 30 million adults in the U.S. are at the low end of the literacy spectrum. They struggle to read a menu, a pay stub or a bus schedule. About 46 million find it challenging to do the most basic math. And for millions of adults, there’s the added challenge of not being able to speak English. Ana Perez, Shirley Ashley, and Ernest Robertson, like thousands of other adult learners, are slowly and painstakingly trying to fill in the gaps of their rudimentary schooling. It has been more than 40 years since they dropped out of school and the long shadow of their unfinished education still follows them every day.
The GED test was created so that our military veterans whose education was interrupted by World War II could get a credential and go on to college. More than 18 million people have passed the test since it was introduced in 1942. But academic research finds the value of a GED credential is not even close to that of a high school diploma. Also, major changes coming to the test in 2014 make it more difficult, more expensive and will require adult students to have computer skills.
The most common reason adults go back to school is to get a better job. In typical adult education programs this can take years; students usually have to finish basic courses, then take the GED test, followed by pre-college classes before they can get into college. If students need to learn English, it can take even longer. But a program used throughout Washington state, shortens that time by taking students, often high school drop outs, and placing them in college level courses. The program uses a combination of team teaching, internships and extra supports to quickly boost student skills and quickly get them into the workforce. The program has been so successful that more than 20 states are implementing some form of this model.
Adults who go back to school often struggle to earn a diploma and hold a steady job. When they can’t read, write or speak English well, it affects whole communities in a variety of ways- the economy suffers and communities have to spend more on social services- including unemployment checks, food stamps and subsidized housing. Adults who dropped out of high school are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. They are less likely to vote and to volunteer and there is also a burden on the health care and the k-12 school systems. But perhaps the biggest cost is the one that can’t be measured. It’s the invisible cost of what-might-have-been, not being able to fulfill your personal potential.