Mary Catherine Swanson: The Upgrader

By targeting the kids most schools allow to float by, Mary Catherine Swanson has turned thousands of average students into college scholars

Should we condemn students to mediocrity just to avoid the risk that they will fail a tougher challenge? That's what American public schools tend to do, argues Mary Catherine Swanson. Afraid of high dropout rates and low standardized test scores, many schools allow all but their top students to muddle through remedial and feel-good classes instead of preparing them for the rigors of college. No wonder so many parents want vouchers to send their kids to private schools.

The dangers of such compromises first struck Swanson 21 years ago, when a judge's order forced Clairemont High School in San Diego, Calif.,...

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