It’s not about the paper

Sometimes I can be a bit dense.

A couple of days ago I was at a board meeting for YESPhilly, a great organization that runs programs for out of school youth. The first half of the meeting was an informal discussion with a few students in their various programs. They talked about what they liked about the organization, how it was different from typical GED programs, how they had heard about it, why they signed up, and their plans for the future.

During the conversation I had a minor epiphany: none of these young people came to YESPhilly’s programs to get their GED. They came, and they have stayed, to get what comes after that: college, a good job, self sufficiency, stability, control over their lives. The GED was a means to an end. The organization’s programs are designed to reinforce that idea, and for these students it made a real difference.

I have argued before that we put too much stock in indicators of educational success (test scores and even graduation rate) rather than actual measures of it. What I realized during that meeting is just how little meaning the indicators carry for students. This is probably obvious to most people, but it was something of a new realization for me.¬†We shouldn’t be admonishing young people to “stay in school.” We should be talking about – and then making possible – what happens as a result of staying in school.

More than credentials, students want options. The want to see what’s possible. That’s when school starts to make sense.