Up to a third of New York's pupils will have to give up their long vacation in a drastic bid to raise standards. Jon Marcus reports
The summer holiday now getting under way may be the last for many New York City youngsters.
From 2000, any pupil aged over nine who has not reached the required standard to go up to the next year will be required to attend summer school until they meet new minimum academic standards.
It is the toughest crackdown so far on the so-called "social promotion" of American pupils - where students go up a grade at the end of each year, regardless of attainment - and comes despite the huge cost of operating summer school for the thousands who are expected to be held back.
Under the plan, as many as a third of New York City's 1.1 million pupils would be forced to attend summer school next year.
In order to be promoted to the next grade at the summer's end, they would then be required to pass a proficiency examination and demonstrate a 90 per cent attendance record.
The 88,000 of these pupils expected to fail this exam would have to repeat their last grade. Even then they would have to spend an extra hour in class after school or attend evening classes.
The new policy is believed to be the toughest in the country. "This goes beyond anything I've seen in any other city," said schools chancellor Rudy Crew, who proposed it. The cost is estimated at about $250 million (pound;150 million) a year.
There are major obstacles to the plan. Only about one-fifth of the city's schools have air-conditioning, and many of those are closed during the summer for renovation, so it may be difficult to find enough classrooms.
Also, many teachers take other, better-paying jobs during the summer, and may not be available to work.
But Dr Crew is adamant his plan will work. He said: "I'm going to get the financial resources. I'm not even going to contemplate not getting them."
Long troubled, the New York city's school system has continued to show declining scores in reading and maths tests, and the authorities say drastic action is needed.
"We are trying to ensure that students measure up to the requirements needed to compete," said Margie Feinberg, spokeswoman for the board of education.
Pupils who reach the age of 15 (high school in America starts at 15) without meeting the standard for promotion, or who fail to finish high school in five years, would be sent to new remedial academies.
The crackdown follows President Clinton's call to end social promotion, part of a package of education initiatives he detailed in his State of the Union speech in January and proposed officially last month.
His other proposals included issuing reports to parents on how schools are doing, recruiting better-qualified teachers and tightening disciplinary codes.