This was supposed to be a straightforward column of praise for a brilliant idea. But an old and questionable District practice keeps clouding my mind.

Here, from the National Association of Business, is the brilliant idea: Get employers to ask applicants for their high school transcripts.

Launched earlier this year, the NAB campaign -- Making Academics Count -- proceeds from the belief that non-college-bound high school students have been led to think that their scholastic records don't particularly matter. Maybe the employer wants assurances that an applicant actually graduated or at least has a high school equivalency certificate. But nobody ever wants to know how well you did in plane geometry or history.

As a result, says the NAB's Carolyn Millunzi, many students have not been as careful as they might to build strong transcripts. The college-bound understand the importance of high school records, of course. But the others?

Making Academics Count hopes to change that attitude by the simple expedient of having employers ask for transcripts. Already, more than 10,000 businesses have signed on to the campaign, with the enthusiastic urging of educators and school administrators.

As a teacher in Rhode Island said, "It's going to give me more clout to have business back me up when I insist on high standards." Said another, from the District, employers' asking for school records is "the most powerful way they can back us up when we tell students that, yes, they need to study and that, yes, school counts."

There are anecdotal reports that the program already is making a difference: that students are paying more attention in class and businesses are finding better workers.

So what possible misgivings could I have?

Not many, in fact. But I do remember the old local practice of the "police clearance." It wasn't a clearance at all but an outgrowth of a law that made it impossible for employers to get the police records of prospective employees. Privacy, you know. So employers who used large numbers of unskilled and semi-skilled laborers started the practice of requiring the applicants themselves to obtain their own police records -- or a police department statement that they had no record: the "clearance."

It was a minor hassle for those who had clean records or who had only minor offenses against them. For others, though, it was sufficient impediment to keep them from even applying for work at certain companies.

You can take the argument either way. You can say that the requirement of the "clearance" could lead to less lawlessness and greater self-control as people learn that their undisciplined behavior could have serious long-term consequences. But you also could say that the people whose misbehavior would be most likely to cost them employment opportunities are precisely those most likely to be turned around by gainful employment. Whatever the consequences to the miscreants themselves, the rest of us don't need to increase the number of people with nothing to lose.

Isn't something similar possible with the NAB program? As with "clearance," it's those on the margin who are most vulnerable. Professionals, managers and skilled workers weren't asked to produce their police records. Similarly, the college-trained applicants won't be asked for their high school transcripts. Most likely to be harmed by the request are those whose lack of academic success kept them out of post-secondary education in the first place and who, as a result, are in special need of entry-level employment.

Some such youngsters might be inspired to do better in school. But isn't it likely that some would wind up worse off than before?

So is Making Academics Count pushing a bad idea? Not at all. It's a good idea, maybe even a terrific idea.

The problem is with me. I'm at that awkward age -- still young enough to be enthusiastic about a bright new idea and old enough to know it's not going to work as well as everyone thought.