No profit left behind

Pearson, the British publishing behemoth,  sells billions of dollars of textbooks, tests, software and online courses in North America, reports Politico‘s Stephanie Simon in No profit left behind.

“Public officials often commit to buying from Pearson because it’s familiar, even when there’s little proof its products and services are effective,” writes Simon.

Its software grades student essays, tracks student behavior and diagnoses — and treats — attention deficit disorder. The company administers teacher licensing exams and coaches teachers once they’re in the classroom. It advises principals. It operates a network of three dozen online public schools. It co-owns the for-profit company that now administers the GED.

Pearson’s interactive tutorials on subjects from algebra to philosophy form the foundation of scores of college courses. It builds online degree programs for a long list of higher education clients, including George Washington University, Arizona State and Texas A&M. The universities retain authority over academics, but Pearson will design entire courses, complete with lecture PowerPoints, discussion questions, exams and grading rubrics.

In peak years, the company has “spent about $1 million lobbying Congress and perhaps $1 million more on the state level,” writes Simon. But, she adds, the National Education Association spent $2.5 million lobbying Congress in 2013.

I think this is the key point:

“The policies that Pearson is benefiting from may be wrongheaded in a million ways, but it strikes me as deeply unfair to blame Pearson for them,” said Jonathan Zimmerman, an education historian at New York University. “When the federal government starts doing things like requiring all states to test all kids, there’s going to be gold in those hills.”

The real question is whether schools need the products and services they’re buying from Pearson and its competitors. As long as Pearson has competitors, it can’t jack up its prices or lower its quality without losing business. For example, it’s losing GED customers like crazy because the new test is too expensive and too difficult. I predict they’ll announce a new new GED or lower prices to regain business.

New tests compete with ‘unpassable’ GED

With GED pass rates down by 85 percent, states are turning to alternative tests, reports Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

— In 2012, a total of 401,388 people passed the GED test.

— In 2013, people rushed to take the old test in its final year, creating a bump: A total of 540,535 people passed.

— How many earned a GED credential in 2014? In the general population: 58,524.

The new GED is aligned to Common Core standards, which measure college readiness. It’s much harder — and more expensive — and must be taken on a computer.

“Teachers are telling us that the new test is virtually impossible for students to pass,” says David Spring, who with his wife, Elizabeth Hanson, runs the website Restore GED Fairness.

The High School Equivalency Test, or HiSET, produced by ETS and the University of Iowa is now coming into use in 12 states, reports Kamenetz. McGraw-Hill’s TASC has been approved in nine states.

However, in 34 states, passing the GED is the only route to a high school equivalency credential.

Previously, GED aspirants could pass part of the test, then retake the sections they’d failed. Now they have to pass all of it at the same time or start over from scratch.

People may be scared off by the harder test, said Diane Renaud, who runs the St. Vincent and Sarah Fisher Center in Detroit. “The vast majority of the people taking the GED are not likely to be college-bound,” she told the Detroit Free Press. “However, to get a job, where you’re able to earn a minimum livable wage, you have to have a GED.”

CT Turner, spokesman for the GED Testing Service, said there are few jobs for people with just a GED or high school diploma. Available jobs require additional job training or education, said Turner.

Pass rates plummet on Core-aligned GED

The new Common Core-aligned GED (General Education Diploma) test is much harder — and more expensive, reports Daniel McGraw on Cleveland Scene. Far fewer high school dropouts have taken the test this year and nearly 500,000 fewer have passed the GED.

In 2012, 401,388 people earned a GED. That went up to 540,000 people in 2013, with many rushing to take the test before it changed. This year, only 55,000 have passed.

Tutor works with GED student at Seeds of Literacy

Tutor works with GED student at Seeds of Literacy

The Seeds of Literacy, a Cleveland nonprofit, helped 131 students pass in the past two years. This year, only two have earned a GED.

At Cleveland’s Project Learn, 29-year-old Derwin Williams has studied all year for the GED, but isn’t ready to take it, reports McGraw. Williams wants to train as a roofer or drywall hanger.

“We are freezing out a large portion of those who would have had a good chance of passing before,” said Robert Bivins, program director of Education at Work at Project Learn.

Like Williams, most GED students want to impress employers or qualify for job training. They’re not aiming at a bachelor’s degree. Yet the Core-aligned exam measures college readiness.

A question from a sample test asks:

Cilia are very thin, hair-like projections from cells. They are 2.0 x 10-4. What is the maximum number of cilia that would fit side by side — without overlapping — across a microscope slide that is 25 millimeters wide?

a. 8.0 x 10-6

b. 1.25 x 10-3

c. 8.0 x 102

d. 1.25 x 105

Is that answerable as written? (Not by me.)

The old GED exam required one personal essay with a question such as: “Who is someone you think is successful and why?” It was graded on sentence structure and grammar.

Now there are two essays evaluated on reasoning.

(A question) asks the tester to read two essays on daylight saving time — one in favor, one against — and then write an essay about which one is better and why.

. . . Another asks a test taker whether a school’s decision to expel a student refusing to salute the flag or saying the Pledge of Allegiance is covered by the freedom of religion or freedom of speech, and how Thomas Jefferson’s writing fits into the question at hand. The essay will be judged, in part, on “your own knowledge of the enduring issue and the circumstances surrounding the case to support your analysis.”

Few are even trying to pass the new GED, says John Eric Humphries, co-author of The Myth of Achievement Tests. “We use the same test” for “a job parking cars as we do for getting into college,” he says.

Some states offer an alternative exam, reports McGraw. Ohio is considering alternatives.

‘Forget the diploma’ or the GED

Penelope Trunk was asked to provide career coaching to a 19-year-old dropout with no formal job experience. When the girl was kicked out by her aunt — after fleeing an abusive stepfather and prostitute sisters — Trunk took her into the family.

Forget about earning a diploma or a GED, Trunk is advising Kate.

Kate told me, “I was good at school… Well. When I went. I didn’t really go enough to be good at school. But I would have been good.”

I think what she means by that is that she is curious and smart. Which is definitely true. It’s just that when kids don’t have a consistent place to live, they don’t have a reliable way to get to school. . . . she stayed with kids who were expelled which made it even harder to get to school.

Trunk believes she can help Kate “get jobs to figure out what she likes to do.” If she wants to go to college, she can say she was homeschooled and explain “how she spent her childhood worrying where her next meal will come from, and where she will sleep next.”

Both employers and colleges know that the GED is for kids who couldn’t get through the system. . . . The GED is a distraction from your real purpose as an almost-twentysomething, which is to explain why you are special and different and will make a good employee or a good student and most of all, a good member of the community you’d like to be a part of.

Kate does not need any seal of approval from a high school or a testing center.

Employers don’t like to hire people who couldn’t handle high school, even with a GED. They like people who show up every day.

Unless Trunk has very good connections, Kate will have trouble finding a job. Without a diploma or GED, she won’t qualify for a Pell Grant to cover college costs. Colleges don’t give scholarships for survival skills — not without proof of academic competence.

I’d recommend lying. Teach Kate to claim she was homeschooled in the conventional sense and that she’s employed as a nanny for Trunk’s kids.

She can use free online resources to assess and improve her academic skills, then take a community college class to redefine herself as a college student. When she figures out what she wants to do . . . It will be hard, but not impossible.

Fifth who drop out face tougher GED

High school graduation rates are up to 80 percent, writes Terry Salinger on The Quick and the Ed. But the 20 percent who don’t earn a diploma face a much tougher — and more expensive — GED.

The General Education Development test (or GED) “now requires a new level of help that too few studying for the GED can get.”

The old test was a pencil and paper affair that took eight hours. The new one, the first update in more than a decade, streams in online and takes a couple of hours less. The old GED had familiar item types, like multiple choice and essays. The new one has new names: hot spot (graphic images with virtual “sensors” to plot coordinates or create models), drop-and-drag, short and long writing tasks, and cloze items (fill in the missing word).

Like the old one, the new GED assesses test-takers’ content knowledge but it also emphasizes their ability to reason in mathematics and language arts and to analyze and write about primary and secondary documents in social studies.

The new GED is aligned with Common Core standards, which are supposed to measure college readiness. (Career readiness too, but that’s an afterthought.) That sets the bar very high.

At $120, the new GED costs about twice as much.

Adult learners “need systematic, intensive, and sustained instruction by teachers with adult-learning expertise,” writes Salinger. But there’s a shortage of adult-learning teachers, classes — and dollars.

Adult charter schools offer one promising way to help more adult learners. Some of the 11 adult charter schools in Washington, DC, combine English language instruction with GED content. Two have child-development centers attached, so adult learners have close-by daycare and those aspiring to childcare careers can get some experience under their belts. In a few others, like Indianapolis and Austin, adult charter schools link to local career-training programs and colleges.

These programs offer “wraparound” social support needed by low-income students, Salinger adds. But few GED students get this kind of help.

If community colleges start turning away low achievers, there will be even more demand for adult learning centers for the 20 percent. And for the high school graduates who never really mastered high school skills.

States dump GED for rival tests

The GED got a lot harder this year to match Common Core Standards. It’s also more expensive. More states are switching to alternatives, writes Catherine Gewertz in Education Week.

Massachusetts and New Hampshire will switch HiSet, an exam developed by ETS and the University of Iowa, joining 10 other states.

New York, Indiana, and West Virginia will use CTB/McGraw-Hill’s TASC as their high school equivalency exam. In Wyoming, Nevada and New Jersey, state testing centers may use TASC if they wish.

Making the GED a test of college readiness sets the bar too high in my opinion. High school dropouts need a way to show mastery of basic skills.

‘GED machine’ includes job prep

While high school dropouts prep for the GED exam at a New York City community college, they also prepare for job training in specific fields, such as health care, business or technology. More students are passing the high school equivalency exam and going on to take college courses at LaGuardia Community College, which has become a “GED machine.”

LA’s Parent College raises expectations

At Parent College, which serves low-income Los Angeles neighborhoods, parents learn how to improve their children’s college prospects, reports  PBS NewsHour.

Nadia Solis, a single mother and high school dropout, spends one Saturday each month during the school year at Parent College learning about learning. Her children attend 99th Street Elementary, one of the 17 low-performing schools now managed by the nonprofit Partnership for Los Angeles Schools.

The Partnership invests 10 percent of its budget on family and community engagement. Test scores are rising.

One day, Solis told her daughter to study hard so she could go to college.

SOLIS: Her answer to me was, if you didn’t finish high school, why are you telling me? Well, what is this that I have to do it?

I just gave her a simple — a simple answer of, well, I just couldn’t. But the minute that I had Parent College the next week, it was my first question to my teacher: What can I do to get my GED?

Solis has earned her GED.

Collegebound can’t opt out of Common Core

Common Core Standards will affect homeschoolers when their children apply to college, writes Paula Bolyard in PJ Lifestyle. Without traditional academic credentials, homeschooled students need strong SAT or ACT scores.

David Coleman, a “lead architect” of the Common Core, is now president of the College Board, which designs and administers the SAT and AP (Advanced Placement) tests. He plans to “redesign the SAT, transforming it from an aptitude test intended to control for varying levels of school quality, to a knowledge test aligned with the Common Core,” reports The Atlantic.

The ACT, which describes itself as “an active partner with the Common Core State Standards Initiative,” also plans to revamp their tests, notes Bolyard.

If your homeschooled children plan to go to attend college some day, the way things currently stand, they will be tested on Common Core “achievements and behavior.” That means you may need to consider altering your curriculum to align with the standards.

Alignment of the SAT, ACT and GED exams to Common Core “poses new questions about the extent to which states, private schools, and homeschooled students will be compelled to accept national standards and tests,” writes Brittany Corona on Heritage Foundation’s The Foundry

Even in states that do not sign on to Common Core, schools could find themselves having to align content with Common Core material in order to ensure student success on the SAT or ACT—something that could affect private schools.

The GED is “sometimes used by homeschoolers to demonstrate content mastery,” Corona writes. The new version of the test “could pull homeschoolers into the Common Core web.”

Michael Farris, co-founder of Home School Legal Defense Association, told Coleman (in a polite conversation): “Just because you have a good idea (homeschooling in my case, Common Core in his case), it doesn’t mean that it is appropriate to force everyone in the country to follow your idea. And that is my central problem with the Common Core and all forms of centralized educational planning.”

Is the new GED too hard?

The GED exam will be harder in 2014, reports the Bay Area News Group. Maybe too hard. The new four-part test, which will be taken on computers, is aligned with Common Core’s college and career readiness expectations.

The new exams are designed to better prepare students for vocational training, college or careers by testing the skills employers are looking for now, said Armando Diaz, spokesman for the GED Testing Service.

There will be fewer multiple choice questions and more questions that “require test-takers to read longer passages and show understanding by defending opinions in short answers or essays.”

I wonder if the new test is too difficult. Here’s a sample social studies question for the 2014 exam:

Excerpt: “There would be an end to everything, were the same man, or the same body, whether of the nobles or of the people, to exercise those three powers, that of enacting laws, that of executing the public resolutions, and of trying the causes of individuals.”

Based on the excerpt, which important principle held by America’s founders did Montesquieu help shape?

A. Wider participation in government is essential to democracy.
B. Government will fail unless it performs a variety of functions.
C. Divisions of powers within government are necessary to prevent abuses.
D. Government power should be shared among the different classes of society.

(Option C is correct. The excerpt states the belief that concentrating all governmental power in one person or group would be very detrimental to a society.)

Go here for more on the new exam.

Only 12 percent of GED recipients go on to earn any other credential, GED officials say. They want the GED to be rigorous enough to be the first step to a vocational credential and a decent job. But it’s going to be a high step.

It’s possible to be stumped by Montesquieu but capable of  learning how to weld, cut hair or drive a truck. The GED is most useful as a minimum qualifications, not as an indicator of college readiness. If it’s too hard, a lot of people will give up.