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Column One: Students

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Florida high school students who earned the General Educational Development certificate were more likely to be employed and earned more money than regular high school graduates, a study by Florida State University researchers has found.

Florida is one of seven states in a pilot project that provides G.E.D. preparation for students at risk of dropping out of school. In a study of the program's first year, the researchers found that students in the pilot program outscored dropouts on the test.

In a follow-up study of the 1990-91 program participants, the researchers found that 60 percent of the participants were employed, compared with 49 percent of high school graduates and 33 percent of dropouts, and that those who were working earned about $125 more than graduates in a three-month period.

"We do know this is not the answer for everybody,'' said Philip Grise, the study's author. But for those it helps, "it is saving them from the fate worse than death of being a dropout.''

As a growing number of schools turn to providing cash and other incentives for student performance, the business world is beginning to take notice.

The December issue of Business & Incentive Strategies, a magazine for corporate executives and managers, contains a special report on incentives in education.

"Given the trend toward using market-oriented techniques, which emphasize competition, it's not surprising that one route to education reform is built on incentives,'' the magazine states.

The publication says that schools that have used incentive programs have seen a drop in absenteeism and a rise in student academic achievement.

The special report also includes an interview with Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

"Students are not going to learn anything unless they work hard at learning,'' Mr. Shanker said.

What would students do if they had the opportunity to improve schools?

To find out, the McNeil Consumer Products Company, the maker of the Tylenol brand of cold relievers, and the National Association of Secondary School Principals have sponsored an essay contest for students in grades 4 through 12. Participants must write a 200-word essay that proposes a project to improve learning opportunities that costs no more than $10,000 to implement.

Winners, who will be announced in June, will receive $2,500 cash prizes; their schools will be awarded $10,000 to implement their ideas.--R.R.

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