Additional comments and resource links follow the seventh paragraph below, after the Big Horn County News edition of this column beginning here:
I have been following the latest Big Horn County saga with interest. At least this story doesn't involve prisons, confidence men, or Gitmo (not yet, anyway). This time we're struggling to find a way to fund a popular GED program, housed at Crow Agency. In my opinion, this situation reflects what I've seen happen many times in the past. We just don't seem to have a good system for locally sustaining programs when the grant funding expires. Our default approach seems to be listing reasons why some other agency should be responsible for paying. Beyond that we might join the naysayers trumpeting that services are not producing results at some hypothetical national level or about why certain people don't deserve a hand-up.
This concerns me for the future wellbeing of our community. Is it really possible that we Big Horn County citizens can't figure out how to pool available resources to improve the circumstances of families in need? It's clear that without a high school diploma or its equivalent, families are at significant risk for poverty and all its accompanying problems (homelessness, substance abuse, domestic violence). This places a burden on schools, on our county tax base, and on state and tribal family assistance resources, and ultimately makes prisons a big business. Many funded programs in our county are designed to target the very same at-risk families who would benefit from GED attainment. It seems hard to believe that there is no way to allocate a small amount of resources from several family service providers and public agencies to fund a multi-agency supported GED program.
I wonder whether the underlying issue is really part of a worldwide wave of hostility toward the poor. We are living in times of austerity and it seems popular these days to blame the victims of the economic downturn for their misfortune. It's all over the media and even in Big Horn County: No more handouts for the poor. Many of us struggle with this message from a religious, as well as social morality perspective.
Righting the wrongs limiting people's access to life resources, including meaningful jobs, is at the heart of the New Testament (for more, see my blog listed below).
It was the people skills of civility, trust, accountability, and care for the common good that really differentiated the early church from the surrounding culture of the first-century Roman Empire.
People skills are also at the heart of what is needed to make all students more successful in life. Academic attainment accounts for only a small portion of what it takes to complete a degree or work effectively with others in a job setting. We've all experienced brilliant colleagues who we dreaded working with because of their clashing personalities or lack of teamwork. Anyone who has tried to get their computer repaired has probably encountered one of those technically competent, but agonizingly patronizing young "service" technicians.
Research studies on the benefits of GED programs are often misinterpreted as showing little value to these prep courses. However, many leaders in the field are far from recommending the end of GED programs. Instead they advocate for ending our modern education obsession (from early childhood through adult) with easily tested factual-based knowledge. Over time, we have cut way back in structures and programs that build motivational, character, and people skills. Research has found that without these life skills, prospects for success in anything go way down. This includes both high school dropouts and GED graduates, both of whom score low in these life skills. But GED adult education programs can be taught in ways that emphasize those important social-emotional skills of civility, trust, accountability, time consciousness, respect and generosity, while students are preparing to pass the paper and pencil tests.
We happen to be blessed in Big Horn County with educators who value the importance of people skill development and know how to teach these vital skills. It would be most interesting to investigate the success of our Big Horn County GED graduates and compare those with the nationwide average. My bet is that both our Hardin and Crow Agency centers would score way above the national average. Of course, in order to do such a study, we'll need to find a way to fund the type of instruction that actually makes a difference for our young adults. Is this really beyond our capacity?
This ends the Big Horn County News edition. The column continues:
Of course, there's a plethora of misinformation in the media quoting research proving the GED and Headstart programs are just a waste of time and taxpayer moneys. Dr. James Heckman and Tim Kautz of University of Chicago are prominent among education researchers studying the causes and effects of the GED programs nation wide. They are currently working on a book called, "The GED and the Role of Character in American Life." Their research measures of success of young people in three categories: 1) those who graduate from high school, 2) those who pass the GED, and 3) those who simply drop out. They found little improvement by young people who earned a GED certificate over those who simply dropped out of high school. So should we just end these programs?
Dr. Heckman's GED project site:
Dr. Heckman regrets that our national education system so prioritizes cognitive skills and neglects the non-cognitive. The tests and training themselves are no attempt to measure non-cognitive skills
In fact, the two are related, and integrally intertwined. And this element in itself should speak volumes to curriculum designers for our public schools, as well as the whole new emphasis on testing of cognitive skill development.
Heckman: from his University of Chicago web page: http://heckman.uchicago.edu/
"I am actively working with personality psychologists, developmental psychologists, quantitative sociologists, statisticians, and neuroscientists to understand the biology and social science producing inequality in health, in labor market outcomes and in society at large."
The GED programs and our public high school education programs are both based on prioritizing cognitive over non-cognitive skills.
But in fact, Dr. Heckman is deeply concerned that GED programs research has been quoted and used to support curtailment of GED programs.
"Investing in our Young People" A study in the variations in human life cycle skill development, by James Heckman, University of Chicago, University College Dublin, and The American Bar Foundation. November 15, 2006. This is available online: http://jenni.uchicago.edu/human-inequality/papers/inv-young-rep_all_2007-01-31b_mms.pdf
According to Mr. Kautz, his colleague:
"The entire (child development) literature assumes that ability is an innate, scalar, age-invariant measure of cognitive skill. This early point of view still prevails in most quarters of economics. …. Noncognitive traits were neglected in empirical research and treated as "soft skills," peripheral to the study of educational and labor market outcomes.
Historically the GED is counted as equivalent to HS diplomas on the census. That's hidden a growing problem with actual graduation rates. If you don't count GED recipients as high school graduates, the graduation rate among African-Americans hasn't increased since the sixties. "If it deludes people into thinking we've fixed social problems that we haven't, that's also a big cost. Because papering over a problem is not going to make it go away," says Kautz.
But GED testing service says it's correct to count the GED as equivalent to high school. "Who determines if it's actually equivalent is the consumers, which are colleges and employers," said CT Turner, Director, Public Affairs & Government Relations for GED Testing Service. He says 98% of colleges accept the GED."
Hardin, MT 59034