Yesterday's Dropouts

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Approximately 30 million adults in the U.S. are at the low-end of the literacy spectrum. They struggle to read a menu, a pay stub or a bus schedule, and find it challenging to do the most basic math. And for millions of adults, there’s the added challenge of not being able to speak English. In this special from WAMU's Breaking Ground series, host Kavitha Cardoza explores the challenges of America's education system and talks to people who are trying to change their lives for the better.

Cardoza speaks with individuals like Ana Perez, Shirley Ashley, and Ernest Robertson -- all three dropped out of school decades ago, and their unfinished education still follows them every day. Then: a closer look at the GED, and how its recently updated content and difficulty affects students in negative ways that most wouldn't think about.

Adults who go back to school often struggle to earn a diploma and hold a steady job. When they can’t read, write or speak English well, it affects whole communities in a variety of ways -- the economy suffers and communities have to spend more on social services- including unemployment checks, food stamps and subsidized housing. Adults who dropped out of high-school are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system. They are less likely to vote and to volunteer. There is also a burden on the health care and the K-12 school systems. But perhaps the biggest cost is the one that can’t be measured. It’s the invisible cost of what-might-have-been -- not being able to fulfill your personal potential. 

Find audio of "Yesterday's Dropouts," as well as interactive graphics illustrating U.S. illiteracy at the link below.