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More high school?

One of America's largest teachers' unions came up with a novel proposal to help high-schoolers in danger of not graduating. Their idea: Keep these kids in class for a fifth year.

In this era of accountability - linking diplomas to passing exit exams, for example - it's not surprising that suggestions fly thick and fast to help students who are lagging behind. But are any of those kids actually going to sign on for more time in a system that's been a poor fit for 12 years?

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Leave aside for the moment the issue of states and districts pouring often-massive amounts of money into education reform. They may wonder why they shouldn't get more bang for the buck in the current 12 years during which all that money is spent.

Leave aside, too, the fact that record numbers of children are spending part of their summer in school. If that doesn't improve performance, is a stigmatizing fifth year, when the "kids" are young adults, going to help? Won't many of them, like those who are supposed to be in summer school, simply play hooky?

Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, made waves a while back with a different proposal: Abolish high school altogether. It fails too many students, he said, especially the poor achievers.

Some dismissed his argument as facile. But the response by many others was overwhelmingly supportive. They often painted high school as a time of lost opportunity and meaningless activity. Their reaction is a reminder that teachers might rethink the current system and how well it reaches students before suggesting a reform that looks suspiciously like more of the same.

*E-mail newcomba@csps.com

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society