A GED Scandal

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sometimes I wonder if advocacy for people without political power, money or political influence can be effective. At least today after a lead editorial in the New York Times supporting the findings and recommendations of a report we are releasing on the state of GED in New York City, I'm feeling pretty good that the first rate research done by my colleagues Lazar Treschan and David Jason Fischer, combined with a long history of credible research in the past, can get vital information out about key elements of what keeps people down in a City like New York.

An earlier report was released, "Our Chance for Change: A Four-year Initiative for GED Testing in NYC" that had outlined some of the difficulties with how this test, which has become virtually the only way that older students who have dropped out or been pushed out of high school can get a diploma. But what CSS's report unearthed was the enormous number of people who desperately need a working GED system to find employment even in the lowest paid jobs in the City. Over a million New Yorkers of working age lack a high school diploma or GED. Yet the City ranks dead last in its passage rate with less than 50% of the paltry 28,000 passing the seven hour exam. It's obvious, as the report finds, based on the entire system of preparing people to take the exam, setting up where the exams are held, who teaches students wanting to take the test and even information about the GED, that this is system no one gives a damn about.

I'm hopeful that's going to begin to change with our report and the initial reaction we've gotten from the public, policy makers and elected and appointed officials. One of the problems that has emerged after decades of poor outcomes for poor children in public schools, has been truly enormous numbers of young people dropping out of high school before graduation. A great deal of the blame has been placed on the young people, their parents, curriculum, teacher quality, unionization, lack of charter schools, but all of this is basically cover for the fact that we haven't set up an educational system which provides equity for the children of those who lack power particularly children of color but any visit to the poorer parts of upstate shows that white children who are poor aren't treated well either.

The major turning point I believe occurred in the famous Supreme Court case San Antonio v. Rodriguez, 411 U.S. 1 (1973) where the Court held that equal educational opportunity was not a constitutionally protected right and left it to the state's and localities to work it out. In one of his most famous dissents, Thurgood Marshall wrote that given the connection between education and political discourse, the court had done serious damage to our democracy. 411 U.S. at 113.

Now across the country we're seeing a bitter legacy in New York City and thousands of other places, big and small, of not having serious federal oversight of public education. Millions of young people and adults, lacking the most basic skills have to compete in a global economy, against nations that are taking basic education much more seriously as a national priority.

The GED is basically a way for motivated young and not so young people to get back on track, not only to have a high school credential, but also to go on to advance training and college. This system has to be reformed and financed so that we don't shut off all avenues for upward mobility, even as we try to fix a basic education system without really wanting to confront the fact that without federal education policy that demands both rigorous standards and equal funding, we'll still be wringing our hands as a nation a dozen years from now, as the rest of the world races by us.

To view the report, "From Basic Skills to Better Futures: Generating Economic Dividends for New York City" click here