Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Summer School Is For Suckers

Take online classes instead

Students looking for ways to get a cheaper, faster college degree will inevitably run up against the suggestion that they enroll in summer school. And until recently that wasn't terrible advice. Taking advantage of lower off-season tuition offered by many schools or cheap classes at your hometown community college was a perfectly good way to clear out some less glamorous requirements and account for your summer without having to work too hard.

With desperately low on-time graduation rates—only about 38 percent of students at so-called four-year colleges actually manage to make it out in four years, according to the latest figures from the National Center for Education Statistics—almost every college student should be thinking about ways to keep on track for graduation. And with 2012 graduates carrying an average debt load of nearly $30,000 according to the Project on Student Debt, looking for education bargains is a good idea as well.

But frugal freshmen aren't doing themselves any favors by planning to spend their summers flip-flopping through the cool linoleum-lined halls of the nation's community colleges. Summer school is depressing and wasteful, with a high opportunity cost. Savvy educational bargain hunters should take courses online instead.

Legend has it that summer vacation originates deep America’s agricultural past. The young and strong were needed to work on the farm, the story goes, so the only option was to put academic instruction on hold during the fertile months. The fact that this myth is so tenacious shows just how far we have come from those pastoral roots. Farm work is heaviest in the spring and fall. Midsummer is a (relative) lull, perfect for working on the 3 Rs.

In fact, summer vacation (as P.J. O’Rourke so eloquently noted) has its roots deep in piles of horse crap. As urbanization got underway, the primary source of horsepower was still actual horses. City streets became unbearably gross in the heat, leading all sensible well-off people to flee to the countryside in warm weather. Combine that with lack of air conditioning and fear of spreading disease, and summer vacation suddenly makes a lot of sense. Modern college students face a greater risk of running into bullshit on campus than horse crap in the streets. Yet the weird tradition of summers off lives on.

Meanwhile, the dog days have become part of the rat race. Internships and summer jobs are just as important as your academic record when it comes time to sell yourself for wages. And if you can't land a competitive (under)paid gig checking Facebook and fetching coffee, you'd better at least find a way to go build a house or two for poor people somewhere exotic so that you can write movingly about it in a grad school application or cover letter later on.

As long as tuition keeps skyrocketing and graduation rates continue to wallow in the mud, though, the advice to grab some additional credits at a discount rate is still solid. There's just no reason to do it instead of making bank, building skills, or doing good.

"With the online revolution in education, there's no reason to pay name brand prices for generic courses when store brands will suffice." That’s the advice from the admittedly biased folks at StraighterLine, which offers college courses online for a $99 sign-up fee plus about $50 for each course. They also have a clever setup to help you transfer those credits into the bricks and mortar academic world.

State university systems increasingly offer online options that may save you the hassle of transferring credits if you're already inside the network.

And there's no need to go exclusively down-market. Harvard would love to have you come burnish your resume (and improve their bottom line). The Cantabs claim an impressive pedigree for their summer offerings: "Begun in 1871, our program is the oldest academic summer program in the United States and continues today to offer a unique opportunity for intellectual exploration and cultural enrichment through the remarkable resources of Harvard University," but hasten to note that "your transcript will not indicate if a course was completed online or on campus."

So go find a haystack to laze in while you keep one eye on the livestock and one eye on your iPad.  Graduation rates are low and student loans are high, but a little summer online learning might help you avoid becoming a statistic.


Wisconsin School Changes Pledge of Allegiance

Madison East High School in Wisconsin has taken a few artistic liberties with the Pledge of Allegiance: they've switched the line "Under God" to "Under peace."

"Just last month, Samantha Murphy, a brave high school junior at Madison East High School, emailed me. In her freshman year, Madison East did not offer the Pledge every morning. Her family decided to talk to the principal and school board, reminding them that it is a state law to offer the Pledge every day. They pointed out Wisconsin State Statute Chapter 118, Section 6, which states “Every public school shall offer the pledge of allegiance or the national anthem in grades one to 12 each school day.”

After months of waiting and deciding if her family should go public with her school district’s unlawfulness and lack of patriotism, her school board finally obliged and started to offer the Pledge of Allegiance daily.

Samantha told me: “this went on without issue from around January of 2013 until March 4th, 2014.” On March 4th, Samantha says her school began to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, and added that they thought they were “above the law.” On the first day of revision, they took out the entire line “one nation under God.” The next day, they merely skipped the words “under God.” On the third day, Thursday March 6th, 2014, they replaced the word “God” with “peace.”

This is ridiculous. The law says that the pledge (or the national anthem) must be said; Madison East is not above the law. The Pledge of Allegiance does not have optional portions, and the term "under peace" doesn't occur in the official wording.


Politics Versus Education

Thomas Sowell

Of all the cynical frauds of the Obama administration, few are so despicable as sacrificing the education of poor and minority children to the interests of the teachers' unions.

Attorney General Eric Holder's attempt to suppress the spread of charter schools in Louisiana was just one of the signs of that cynicism. His nationwide threats of legal action against schools that discipline more black students than he thinks they should are at least as damaging.

Charter schools are hated by teachers' unions and by much of the educational establishment in general. They seem to be especially hated when they succeed in educating minority children whom the educational establishment says cannot be educated.

Apparently it can be done when you don't have to hire unionized teachers with iron-clad tenure, and when you don't have to follow the dogmas in vogue in the educational establishment.

Last year, there was an attempt to shut down the American Indian Model Schools in Oakland, California -- schools that had been ranked among the top schools in the nation, schools with the top test scores in their district and the fourth highest scores in the entire state of California.

The reason given was that the former -- repeat, FORMER -- head of these schools was accused of financial irregularities. Since there are courts of law to determine the guilt or innocence of individuals, why should school children be punished by having their schools shut down, immediately and permanently, before any court even held a trial?

Fortunately, a court order prevented this planned vindictive closing of this highly successful charter school with minority students. But the attempt shows the animus and the cynical disregard of the education of children who have few other places to get a comparable education.

Attorney General Holder's threats of legal action against schools where minority students are disciplined more often than he wants are a much more sweeping and damaging blow to the education of poor and minority students across the country.

Among the biggest obstacles to educating children in many ghetto schools are disruptive students whose antics, threats and violence can make education virtually impossible. If only 10 percent of the students are this way, that sacrifices the education of the other 90 percent.

The idea that Eric Holder, or anybody else, can sit in Washington and determine how many disciplinary actions against individual students are warranted or unwarranted in schools across the length and breadth of this country would be laughable if it were not so tragic.

Relying on racial statistics tells you nothing, unless you believe that black male students cannot possibly be more disruptive than Asian female students, or that students in crime-ridden neighborhoods cannot possibly require disciplinary actions more often than children in the most staid, middle-class neighborhoods.

Attorney General Holder is not fool enough to believe either of those things. Why then is he pursuing this numbers game?

The most obvious answer is politics. Anything that promotes a sense of grievance from charges of racial discrimination offers hope of energizing the black vote to turn out to vote for Democrats, which is especially needed when support from other voters is weakening in the wake of Obama administration scandals and fiascoes.

Eric Holder's other big racial crusade, against requiring identification for voting, is the same political game. And it is carried out with the same cynical promotion of fears, with orchestrated hysteria from other Democrats -- as if having to show identification to vote is like a revival of the Ku Klux Klan.

Blacks, whites and everybody else can be asked for identification these days, whether cashing a check or using a credit card at a local store or going to an airport -- or even getting into some political meetings called to protest voter ID laws.

But to sacrifice the education of children, especially children for whom education may be their only ticket out of poverty, is truly a new low. As someone once said to Senator Joe McCarthy, "Have you no sense of decency, sir?"


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