Articles are available for reprint as long as the author is acknowledged: Domenick J. Maglio Ph.D.

Friday, February 16, 2007

GED Means "General Educational Development" Not "Equivalency"

We have been conned. Too many students and parents are under the misconception that a GED is equal to a regular high school diploma .Over and over again we read in the magazines and newspapers or hear educated people say the “General Equivalency Diploma.” The initials “G.E.D.” stand for “General Educational Development,” a far cry from a high school equivalency degree. It is a miscarriage of justice to pretend that a GED is equal to a diploma.

The General Educational Development was established during WWII to assist veterans who had not earned a high school diploma become eligible for college. In the 1950s its purpose was enlarged to include anyone who had not graduated from high school. Now there are over 500,000 students receiving a GED each year.

The problem with the transformation of the General Educational Development process is young high school students are copping out of fulfilling the requirements for a legitimate diploma. They are under the illusion that a GED path of dropping out and taking a five- part test is equal to four years of hard work. Many GED recipients learn too late this assumption is wrong.

Even when students possess the GED, their earnings and employment potential is indistinguishable from a dropout’s. Stephen Cameron and James Heckman, “The Nonequivalence of High School Equivalents”, Journal of Labor Economics, 1993, p. 1-47. When something comes too easy it is often not valued.

On the other hand a high school graduate must overcome many challenges. A student who receives a high school diploma has to successfully complete a specific number of required and elective courses. They have satisfied the expectations of numerous teachers, peers and other authority figures. A graduate not only has demonstrated the ability to meet the minimum academic standards on many tests, but can conduct himself in a reasonable manner in many different circumstances. Employers know passing a test does not correct poor attitude, attendance, work ethic, interpersonal skills and perseverance.

Even though a GED gives a teenager another chance to appease his parents and gain a certification of completion, it is not a first class designation. With everything else being equal, employers are less likely to hire a person with a GED rather than someone with a high school degree. The passing of one test does not erase a person’s history of failure to live up to the expectations of educators.

There is no entitlement for a student to be granted a high school diploma. Students must earn their degree by meeting certain standards or the process of education will become meaningless. Lowering the bar by giving a student chance after chance ends in unmotivated, underachieving dropouts.

Parents, teachers and society in general have an obligation to inform students that chances are not granted forever. If a person does not focus today there may not be an opportunity tomorrow. Chances run out with time. When a person fails to practice or develop a skill in an allotted period of time, he often suffers severe consequences when the window of opportunity closes.

The General Educational Development was never meant to be a substitute for the comprehensive high school diploma. It is not a safety net catching all the dropouts. Making the GED process easy has and will have the unintended consequence of increasing the attractiveness of being a dropout. We do not need to create second class citizens whose school history makes them suspect.

Remember the GED is a dubious certificate with serious reservations to employers and college administrators as compared to successfully completing a high school diploma.

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