As president of a school board planning a big (1,250 students), new high school, Robert Marschner, 49, of Homewood, 111., 25 miles outside of Chicago, wanted to do things right. What, he asked himself, are the outstanding secondary schools in the U.S. that would serve as models? Since no one seemed able to give him a satisfactory answer, he drew up a list of his own: those schools that in the last two years produced 20 or more finalists in the National Merit Scholarship race. Not a complete criterion, Marschner admitted, but "far better than nothing." Then he wrote to the...

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