Online cheating is not inevitable

The proliferation of apps that help students cheat is seen as unavoidable (“Rampant online cheating is the dark side of remote learning,” Los Angeles Times, Oct. 24). Yet I maintain that cheating can be dramatically reduced if changes were made in how courses are taught.

At present, learning is a guessing game for students. What material is most important and will therefore be tested?  As a result, students look for help in studying. But would happen if professors made it clearer exactly what students should know?  I don’t mean giving them the questions beforehand.  Instead, I mean stating what behaviors students will be expected to demonstrate. If that were the case, the incentive for cheating would be almost eliminated.

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Public schools are dividing the nation

There was a time when public schools were seen as the glue that held the nation together.  But today, they are the force that is doing precisely the opposite (“Is the Public School System Constitutional?” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 22).

There are many reasons for the dramatic change, but I submit that the No. 1 factor is the refusal of local boards of education to listen to parents in deciding the curriculum.  Critical race theory is the best example.  By substituting indoctrination for education, it is dividing the country.

Too many students graduate high school unable to read and write at grade level because they have instead been taught that they are victims of a racist society.  It’s a formula that shows no sign of abating.

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College degree madness

The obsession with a college degree is a relatively new phenomenon. Only after the Labor Department first published the $100,000 lifetime premium attached to a bachelor’s degree over a high-school diploma after the end of World War II did it become a preoccupation (“College Degrees Are Overrated,” The New York Times, Oct. 19). Until then, the government’s involvement in higher education was limited to the G.I. Bill of Rights.

Yet despite the dramatic changes in the decades since then, college remains merely the most convenient place to learn how to learn.  It is not an absolute determinant, despite popular opinion. It remains because credentials are far easier to measure than skills.

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Intellectual incest in higher education

Despite their rhetoric about the importance of teaching critical thinking skills, colleges and universities continue to engage in intellectual incest (“M.I.T.’s Choice of Lecturer Ignited Criticism. So Did Its Decision to Cancel,” The New York Times, Oct. 21). By doing so, they deprive students of an opportunity to achieve that goal.

The latest example involves M.I.T.’s decision to disinvite Dorian Abbot, whose sin was his insistence that people should be seen as individuals first, rather than as members of a group. That alone was enough to cancel him.  I say it’s impossible to develop critical thinking skills when diverse views are censored.  But is exactly what is happening in academia today.

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Alumni Free Speech Alliance is glimmer of hope

What purports to be academic freedom in higher education is nothing of the sort.  That’s why I hope the newly-formed Alumni Free Speech Alliance, which is composed of five alumni groups across the country, is successful. Its goal is to protect the rights of faculty and students across the ideological spectrum.

As things stand now, indoctrination, rather than education, characterizes colleges and universities. More than 80 percent of students say they self-censor their views.  I can understand their reluctance to speak out.  Who wants to be attacked by one’s peers and teachers for not toeing the party line?

Yet, I remain extremely skeptical about the new alliance’s chances to make substantive changes.  The forces of intolerance are simply too entrenched and powerful.

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Abolishing Gifted and Talented program is big mistake

The likely new mayor of New York City, home of the nation’s largest school district, has said he will retain its Gifted and Talented program (“Adams Commits, With Few Details, to Keeping Gifted Program in Schools,” The New York Times, Oct. 15).  Eric Adams deserves credit for preserving what, in my opinion, is the only asset the vast system has to offer.

But predictably, his decision has already met with opposition from those who want to put an end to the program because too few Black and Hispanic students are enrolled.  Yet less than 2 percent of students are enrolled in the Gifted and Talented program.  If they were suddenly scattered across all schools, integration would not improve.  It would only motivate more parents to take their children out of the system.

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Listen to parents

If there is one thing I’ve learned about education, it’s that parents of all races will not sacrifice their children on an ideological altar. I thought about that truism again after reading about how school boards are refusing to listen to their wishes (“Today’s School Board Fights Recall the 1970s Busing Battles,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 12).

Busing was the issue that divided the country in the early 1970s.  It was no more on display than in Boston, when a federal judge ordered integration of the city’s public schools. Today, it’s seen in the controversy surrounding critical race theory. Just as forced busing caused many parents to enroll their children in religious and private schools, critical race theory will likely have a similar effect.

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Going to college and going broke

As readers of this column well know by now, I maintain that far too many young people are being wildly oversold on the importance of a four-year degree for a bright future.  The latest news in support of my belief is what is taking place at Baylor University (“How Baylor Steered Lower-Income Parents to Debt They Couldn’t Afford,” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 14).

Rather than provide grants to cover tuition, Baylor has relied heavily on Parent Plus.  Under the program, taxpayers bear the losses if the loans aren’t repaid.  Such defaults do not hurt colleges because they get the money upfront. With no skin in the game, Baylor and other colleges offer nothing but condolences to parents who can’t repay their children’s debt. Their sympathy, however, has not stopped them from spending millions on stadiums and the like having little to do with academics.

My advice to high school seniors is to go to community college for the first two years to satisfy the general education requirements at a bargain price.  Then decide if continuing on is worth the debt.  I hope they will consider vocational education, which I believe provides the foundation for a gratifying career and life.

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NYC schools eliminate last educational asset

Just when you thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse in New York City, home of the nation’s largest school system, outgoing Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the elimination of the Gifted and Talented program (“NYC will phase out Gifted and Talented program,” New York Daily News, Oct. 8). The move will no doubt drive many parents to enroll their children in private and religious schools, where such programs still exist.

When it comes to education, de Blasio has been the city’s worst major.  He began by selecting Richard Carranza as chancellor, who promptly made it clear that whatever quality was left in the behemoth system would be eliminated in the name of equity. Then de Blasio slowly began to undermine whatever confidence parents had by his assault on high-achieving students.

New York City continues to get exactly what it deserves when it comes to education.  Any substantive changes, such as eliminating social promotion and closing persistently failing schools as Mayor Bloomberg tried to do, are resisted.

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Ballot measure to weaken teacher protections won’t fly

Even if an initiative makes it to the ballot in Nov. 2022 in California to guarantee all students “a high-quality public education,” voters will likely reject it (“Proposed California Ballot Measure Could Spark Court Challenges to Teacher Protections.” The Wall Street Journal, Oct. 8). I say that based on the history of similar efforts in the past to undermine teacher tenure.

At present, teachers in California gain tenure after only two years.  That’s far too soon.  But I doubt that voters are willing to blame tenure for the undeniable ills afflicting the state’s public schools. There are simply too many factors beyond the control of even the best teachers. As a result, when the smoke clears, voters will see that tenure is not the villain.

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