Catherine Gewertz via Will Fitzhugh:
Those of you who lament the state of high school students’ research and writing skills will be interested in a discussion that’s been unfolding at the National Association of Scholars. It began a couple weeks ago with the publication of a previously undisclosed report on why students are not learning–let alone mastering– the skills of crafting substantial research papers.
The report is here, and the explanation of its origins and disclosure is described in the press release here. A response from a frustrated high school English teacher is here.
The report found that most social studies/history teachers never assign moderately long research papers. Most of the teachers–whose student loads often surpass 150–said they can’t afford the time necessary to grade such papers.
This is hardly a new conversation. Consider the work done by Achieve and ACT on this issue, and the look Cincinnati took at it last year. And Will Fitzhugh, who was the driving force behind the recently disclosed paper, has been tirelessly advocating for rigorous high school research papers for years. A retired history teacher, he runs the Concord Review, the only journal that publishes high school students’ history research papers, and blogs as well. (He sums up his views on the importance of research papers in this EdWeek commentary, from a few years ago, and more recently on The Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog.)
On a related note, another recent paper pinpointed a fragmented high school English curriculum and a neglect of close-reading skills as key explanations for teenagers’ poor reading skills. That paper was written by one of the architects of Massachusetts’ academic standards, former state board member Sandra Stotsky, and published by the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW).
While the reflections on students’ mastery of reading, writing and research skills are hardly new, they take on an interesting dimension (and more urgency, perhaps?) with the widespread adoption of common standards that envision a significant shift in how literacy skills are taught.
Among those teachers who do not assign research papers, the predominant factor is time. Namely, the time it takes to correct and grade the assigned papers and the time research papers can take away from other curriculum priorities.
The majority (82%) of teachers say it is difficult to find adequate time to devote to reading and grading the research papers they assign. Almost half (49%) of teachers say that is very difficult to find the time, one third (33%) say that it is somewhat difficult.
Underscoring that difficulty is that grading papers cuts into teacher’s personal time–more than six in ten specify non-school time, or personal time, as the place where they grade papers. Specifically, one in five (20%) grades papers at home or outside of school, 10% do so on weekends and 15% on their own time, 8% say they use evenings or late nights, 3% use time in the early morning and 1% assign papers over a holiday or break.
Since time is such an important consideration, it is not surprising that teachers value the timeliness of paper submission. On a scale of one to ten, 70% ranked submitting the paper on time as a “9” or a “10.” In terms of grading importance, timeliness is followed by the quality of written expression and a well-defined, important thesis or hypothesis.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review 
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes 
National Writing Board 
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