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Examining the GED Trend: Is a Lack of "Fun Courses" the Culprit?

Last week, before I was unceremoniously struck down by our school's current "epidemic" (an upper-respiratory infection that all the teachers and none of the kids seem to be getting--fodder for a conspiracy theory if ever there was one!), a bunch of the students were milling around in my room during my tutoring period, snacking, working on make-up assignments, and complaining about why school is "wack." For the most part their litany of complaints wasn't too shocking: too much homework, too many strict rules, boring dress code (which most of them aren't following anyway, so I don't see how they're complaining about that), not enough girls (or not enough boys), etc. A couple of them said we needed to have more field trips. One guy, a quiet one, had something interesting to say: "I came to this school because they used to have more electives," he said mournfully. "But now they've cancelled music, we share art teachers with other schools in the building, and there's nothing else available. It makes school boring to take away all the fun courses."

I really feel for this little guy, and think his point is well taken. It's not news that all across America music and art programs have been cut or trimmed in order for schools to scrape by with ever-tightening budgets. This issue is compounded in New York City, wherein almost all the formerly large public high schools have been closed down, and small high schools have cropped up to take their place; sometimes too many small schools are crammed into the same building, all vying (at times acrimoniously) for space and resources, let alone access to art studios, computer rooms, or science labs when available. The result is a lack of elective opportunities for kids, which is extremely disappointing and unfair to kids who love these subjects and come to high school with the expectation of being able to avail themselves of a broader range of educational options than they had in middle school.

I thought of this when I was laid up earlier this week and read this article about high school kids in the DC area who are dropping out to pursue GEDs in large numbers. Experts are worried that students are "missing out on the high school experience," and as a result, discussing making changes in the requirements to taking these exams so as to leave high school early. While I see the concerns about too many kids leaving school with a degree that is commonly viewed as "less valuable" than a normal diploma, I wonder if instead we should be asking this: Why are so many kids pursuing this option? In what way is school not serving these kids' needs? Given that the GED-pursuing crew is separate from the kids who simply drop out, it seems all the more important to ask what needs aren't being met by your average public high school curriculum, and how we it can be better aligned with more kids' professional and post-secondary goals.

This also brings me back to my other favorite soapbox issue, the lack of trade school or career-tech education options. College simply isn't what every kid wants or needs--and even if they do ultimately decide to attend college, some may wish to work first. But with the increasingly prevalent (and short-sighted) "college-for-all" philosophy, the opportunities to pursue vocational training dwindle ever more. When the kids are deciding, in high numbers, to cut their high school "experience" short by taking the GED test, then instead of focusing on loopholes to put the GED further out of reach, it's time to look at what they're not getting by following the traditional path--and figure out what types of educational options might persuade them to stay put.

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