Teachers Think 5th Year Would Help

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — While students may cringe at the idea of a fifth year of high school, a teacher's union president says that's the ideal prescription for those least prepared to continue their

Monday, July 3rd 2000, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — While students may cringe at the idea of a fifth year of high school, a teacher's union president says that's the ideal prescription for those least prepared to continue their education or enter the work force.

``It's a choice between letting kids fall through the cracks .... or doing whatever it takes to bring them up to par,'' said Sandra Feldman, president of the American Federation of Teachers, who's proposing a special ``transitional year'' for students in danger of failing high school exit exams or of dropping out before even taking the test.

It's one of the ideas to be discussed as thousands of educators attend simultaneous meetings of the two major teachers' unions this week, shaping their lobbying agendas and plans for the new school year.

Under Feldman's proposal — to be put before her union on Monday — specially trained teachers would help students by using methods employed to catch up military recruits, high school drop outs and other teens and young adults with minimal reading skills. The current system, Feldman said in an interview last week, is unfair to students who have been promoted regardless of grades or test scores, then asked to pass tough tests for their diplomas. About 30 states have such exit exams.

However, states set their own school schedules. Kindergarten is not even mandatory in every state, so most students only get grades one through 12.

It's unclear whether teachers, students and parents would welcome any change in the dozen years a child usually spends in school: ``When it comes to stigmatizing students, there's not going to be any difference between holding a student back or adding a year,'' said Galen Price, a North Carolina 12th-grader who heads the International Student Activism Alliance, a nationwide network that follows state and federal education policy.

Districts — already adding summer, Saturday and after-school classes for struggling students — might balk at another reason to find more classrooms and more teachers for extra kids.

``It's definitely going to be a financial stress on them,'' said Judy Seltz, a spokeswoman for the American Association of School Administrators. ``Even if that fifth year has a substantially smaller enrollment, there's still staffing and space implications.''

In remarks prepared for Monday's opening of the union's 76th annual meeting, Feldman says educators could provide the extra help if state and federal lawmakers used the nation's economic prosperity to build new schools and hire more teachers: ``The fact is, too many of our political leaders and school officials are not doing their part.''

While the AFT, representing 1 million teachers in larger cities, meets here, the National Education Association, the largest group with 2.5 million members, is meeting in Chicago.

Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore, who's won the endorsement of both groups, is slated to appear in Philadelphia and Chicago this week.

July is traditionally when the nation's schoolteachers meet to set priorities for how they'll teach in classrooms and how they'll bargain with the people who sign their paychecks. This year — with elections nearing — a flurry of proposals will give teachers much to contemplate: Link their pay to students' scores? Take a mandatory test to keep their licenses? Pay higher dues?

Some of the new issues on the table at both meetings are first nibbles for organizations usually seen as entrenched and resistant to change.

Roughly 4,000 delegates expected at AFT will decide the union's position on testing teachers and raising standards for charter schools and online colleges.

Nearly 9,000 delegates of the NEA, recently criticized for how it reports the funds it spends on political activities, are slated to consider the union's policy on turning around low-performing schools, school privatization, and teacher pay based on performance, rather than seniority. They will also approve state-level mergers of the two unions in Florida and Montana. Meanwhile, the persistent, but unsuccessful, mission to merge the two labor groups will continue with high-level, behind-the-scenes talks, leaders say.


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