Cost savings drive Summer School online

Guilford County, North Carolina: Summer school here is no more. Face-to-face instruction is eliminated. Students “complete their work at home, the library or wherever they can access the Internet,” says the The Greensboro News-Record article. “The online-only approach…will help the district shrink its summer school budget from roughly $438,000 to $86,000.”

Wow. Presto. Move it online and the district saves  almost a cool half million. The official quoted states that we can trust the administrators to use the savings wisely,  with a vague, “to use that money throughout the year is more proactive and it puts kids back on track to be successful.”

Of course, the devil is in the details. What track? The article doesn’t elaborate on how the online system will affect student learning, an important consideration in a district where only 31% of seniors are passing end-of-year tests. But it does explain how the success or failure of the online school will ultimately be measured–by the numbers, of course–through “state test” results.

The economic collapse of our country has taken our social services with them, and the digital fix of Guilford County Schools is evidence of a trend in public administration, in which the  return on investment (ROI) of every community dollar has been re-evaluated. The “bean-counters”–statisticians– are in the ascendant,  focused on quantitative measures like test scores, debt loads, and budgets. Summer School is thus the industrial-age Canary in the current economic-education Coal Mine.  How long before numerically-valid “proactivity” measures extend to the regular school?

How long before “school year” has lost its meaning, as the market drives public education to its maximal economic operating efficiency?


With ROI as Emperor, it is important to call out loudly when he lacks clothing to his arguments.  And in this case, the danger is that ROI decides with incomplete data. Humanists should constantly seek to remind decision-makers of the qualitative values–sociability, kindness, justice, technical ability–not reflected in ROI metrics.  How will these be measured? And what will online learning do for them?

My fear is that it could be a short-time savings for a long-time loss.

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