DISCUSSION: Graduating High School Versus Earning A GED

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Last year, after he turned 18, Youth Radio Reporter Desmond Meagley dropped out of high school — not to end his education, but because his high school’s teaching style wasn’t working for him. He says his school’s large class sizes, constant assessments and busywork assignments left him feeling exhausted at the end of the day.

“Junior year, I started skipping classes in favor of reading in the park across the street,” he said. “It was the first time in a long time that I felt engaged in learning. It woke me up to the fact that I needed to take control of my own education.”

In lieu of a traditional teen education, Desmond took (and passed) the GED, a set of four tests for “general education development” that in many ways functions like a high school diploma. And Desmond is not alone. In 2013 nearly 750,000 people took the GED. The average GED taker is a little older than your typical high schooler (28), but in recent years 16 to 18 year olds have accounted for nearly 1 in 5 candidates.

At least on paper, the GED and other high school equivalency tests like the HiSET and TASC are the equivalent of an American or Canadian high school diploma. People with a GED are eligible to transition to higher education, which can feel like a shortcut for teens who plan to attend community college after graduation. But when it comes to attitudes and long-term outcomes, some sources say high school equivalency tests come up short.

According to the US Census Bureau, which looked at long-term employment and earning outcomes for GED holders versus high school graduates, those with a GED earned an average of $1600 less per month later in life than those who had a high school diploma (both groups out-earned people who had less than a high school education or no high school education at all). That may have something to do with the fact that most people with high school diplomas end up completing at least some post-secondary education (75%), compared to less than half (43%) of GED holders.

But for teens like Desmond, who find themselves mentally checked-out midway through high school, the GED can seem like a great way to re-engage with their educational goals. “If it’s widely accepted that people have different styles of learning, then why is it so outrageous to take a different educational path?” he said.

“Once I graduate from college, it won’t matter anymore whether I got a GED or a high school diploma.”


The Reality of High School

AUDIO: Drop Out (KQED/Youth Radio)

Youth Radio’s Desmond Meagley decided that while he loved learning, high school wasn’t the best fit for his learning needs. Instead, he dropped out and earned a GED — a choice he says better fit his life goals. Desmond shares his perspective on what led to his decision, and why he believes it won’t make a difference down the line.

Do Now

Would you consider earning a high school equivalency certification instead of a high school diploma? What, if anything, does the high school experience offers versus the potential “shortcut” of a GED? How well does high school fit your learning needs?

To respond to the Do Now, you can comment below or tweet your response. Be sure to begin your tweet with @KQEDEdspace and end it with #DoNowGED


More Resources

AUDIO: Feeling Stuck Without a GED (Youth Radio/KCBS)
Youth Radio’s Joshua Clayton never finished high school. In 2013, he shared his perspective about wanting to go back and earn his GED, but said it was tough to find the time. “I’ve been given opportunities to get a GED, but that would mean giving up my part-time job.” he said. “Even though it doesn’t pay enough for me to ever get ahead. Without a high school diploma, sometimes life feels like a game I cannot win.”

ARTICLE: Changes to GED Test Raising Anxiety Among Older Students (KQED)
Think passing the GED is easy? Think again. In 2014, the exam went through a major overhaul to align with Common Core standards that, according to many students, made it much more challenging. Now, several states are reporting that there have been fewer test takers since the changes were implemented. But some GED teachers, like Ellen Haworth, say that’s a good thing. “If everybody’s standards go up, the GED should too,” she says. “I don’t think it’s fair to say you’re equivalent to the typical high school diploma if we’re left behind. Making them better prepared out there in the workforce is better for everybody.”

VIDEO: Is the new GED test an educational improvement or setback?
An overhaul of the GED to meet Common Core standards has made the high school equivalency test more rigorous and more expensive. As a result, fewer people are taking and passing it. Gwen Ifill gets debate from Randy Trask of the GED Testing Service and Lecester Johnson of Academy of Hope about what the changes mean.

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