Saturday, December 18, 2010

Susan Ohanian on NYC Overhaul of GED

City to overhaul its GED standards

Ohanian Comment: I can't begin to express my rage over this story. The New York City intent to make a GED "more rigorous" is mean-spirited; it's punitive; it's wrong. . . and it breaks my heart. So now New York City will impose the Common Core on GED applicants, meaning making them read William Wordsworth and Jane Austen--along with hapless students in regular programs?

After teaching in New York City, I moved to New Jersey and was hired by the Neighborhood Youth Corps. They sent me home to study the GED exam and come up with a plan to teach the course. My research showed that text content averaged out on a 10th grade reading level. I wrote a test prep manual that was used throughout New Jersey. My claim to fame was that if a kid read on a 10th grade level, I could get him ready to pass the test in six weeks. It was six weeks of intense work but kids can be very intent when the goal is clear.

I made no pretext about offering an education: I was offering a utilitarian key to entry into the job market, a high school equivalency.

One young woman in our program, the mother of two, tested out as reading at the 8th grade level. This meant according to our rules, she had to take the GED prep course before being admitted to my fast-paced GED class. She begged me to make an exception. "You've never seen anyone work the way I will work," she begged. "I have two children and right now I'm an aide for the state. If I get my GED, they will hire me. I will be Civil Service and able to provide for my children."

I let her into the course and, true to her word, she worked very very hard. I never saw her without a stack of books, and she did what I told her: She read books of her own choosing, and she read them in every spare moment she could grab. "I'm always reading," she said. "I didn't realize I could actually like it."

She passed the GED test by one point. Doors were open for her to earn a decent living.

That young woman was just one of many. More than thirty years later, I still feel transformed by the experience. Getting a GED certificate changed lives. It gave young people possibilities.

The GED program wasn't flashy enough for the administrators. They decided to scrap both GED prep and GED classes in favor of. . . actually I don't know what they wanted. The administrator called me into his office and told me they were terminating the GED part of the program. He offered me what he called a bonus (and I called a bribe) to quit teaching GED and start writing grants. That bribe was worth a year's pay.

I quit on the spot.

I'm grateful to that up and coming administrator (Yes, he had political ambitions). I don't know that I'm incorruptible, but I learned right there on the spot that it would take more than one year's salary to get me to sell out what I believe in.

To this day, I keep a close place in my heart for those who travel GED paths. I know that GED matters, and I know there's a special place in hell for those who would deny people this alternative, an alternative that should not travel along the Common Core path but tap into the needs of students for whom regular schools have not worked.

And by the way, some of my GED students did go to college. After I quit the Neighborhood Youth Corps, I was hired by a community college, and one of my GED students was in my class. For years, I received a yearly card from her. . . and I followed her progress up through administrative ranks of AT & T. She insisted that I changed her life. And believe me, if I shared the details of that life, it would curl your hair.

But for other students, getting that GED meant being hired as automobile mechanics, clerks, trainees in a variety of programs. Denying the many students these opportunities that a high school equivalency affords in the name of applying "rigor" for those who might go to college is political opportunism and an obscene degradation of human potential.

by Bryan Yurcan

The city has announced it is launching a pilot program to "modernize" the General Educational Development test to better prepare those who take it for college.

Mayor Bloomberg, along with U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and city schools Chancellor Joel Klein, announced the program, which is designed to prepare more GED candidates for careers and post-secondary education.

The program is offered at District 79 schools, which were established to help students succeed by providing diverse and innovative educational opportunities that combine academic instruction with meaningful youth development, according to the DOE.

The pilot will begin in January and will provide a curriculum that is more rigorous and better aligned with the Common Core Standards that New York state and most other states are adopting, according to the city.

The initiative is being funded through a $3 million grant from the MetLife Foundation to the American Council on Education.

The GED test originally was developed to help returning World War II veterans obtain a credential that would allow them to enter college and take advantage of the GI Bill.

However, the DOE says the current curriculum is not in line with the skills needed in today's workforce and required by higher-education institutions.

The state passing score for a GED test of 2250, for example, is only equivalent to an eighth grade proficiency level in reading and math. And students can pass the writing section with only a sixth grade level proficiency.

The partnership between the city and ACE is "the first step in overhauling the current General Educational Development test and ensuring that students obtaining it are career and college ready," according to Bloomberg.

Through the pilot, administrators will develop and assess curricula designed to help accelerate students’ competence in literacy and numeracy, train GED instructors on the new test and curricula and construct implementation guidelines for states and districts to ensure they are prepared to help students meet more rigorous standards.

The planning phase of the pilot will run from January to July of 2011, and the curriculum and assessment tools will be developed during school years 2011-12 and 2012-13 alongside implementation pilots and teacher training. Outcomes of the pilot will be evaluated and finalized in 2014.

"By working closely with all of our partners to raise the bar and open more doors for our students, we will restore the promise this certificate once held for students who are unable to receive a high school diploma," Bloomberg said in a prepared statement.
— Bryan Yurcan
Queens Chronicle


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