Reform of public schools has become almost a permanent obsession in the United States.
And in half of the states now trying out the reform idea of high-stakes graduation tests, much of their agenda is rooted in the famous 1983 report "A Nation at Risk."
That government study laid out only a few - but critical - recommendations, such as merit pay for teachers and the graduation test. One against-the-grain recommendation - longer school years and longer school days - hasn't gone very far.
Hundreds of thousands of students face the prospect of not receiving a high school diploma or being held back a grade if they fail state tests. That's been a wake-up call to give more schooling to such students.
But who should do the extra teaching? And who will pay for it?
Up to now, colleges, businesses, and the military have complained that they must provide more and more remedial training for high school graduates who can't write well or do basic math. No wonder that they are the strongest advocates of school reform.
Should parents be asked to shoulder more of the burden for the teaching their children somehow missed? Should they pay for the tutors or summer schools that will help their kids catch up?
For now, many schools in those states with mandated tests are scrambling to find extra help for students falling through the cracks. State legislatures are being asked to throw more tax revenues at extra teaching.
This week, the American Federation of Teachers suggested that schools add an optional fifth year to high school. This "transitional year" program would be targeted especially at improving reading skills.
Pressure is building as many states near their deadlines to start flunking poor-scoring students. Will test standards be lowered, or extra schooling offered?
Perhaps the school calendar does need to become longer and more flexible. And perhaps schools need to offer more after-school study.
Many students just take longer to learn, and taxpayers may now need to pay more for those kids to earn a diploma that will mean something.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society