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Employers Biggest Complaint: HS Graduates Need to Write Better

Will Fitzhugh Publisher of The Concord Review

By Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review.

“The single biggest complaint from college teachers and employers is that 

high school graduates cannot write as well as they need to.”

Marc Tucker, President,

National Council on Education and the Economy

on August 9, 2012

 

I am great believer in the educational power of the high school research paper. In fact, I am a fan that I founded The Concord Review in 1987 to publish student research papers and highlight the academic quality of their work.

But term papers are at riask as part of our educational curriculum. In 2002, I conducted a study of high school history teachers and discovered that, although nearly all of them said a term paper was a good idea, 62 percent never assigned a 12-page paper—and 27 percent never assigned an eight-page paper.

Page numbers aren’t the only measure of a writing project, but the consensus is that the rigor of high school research papers hasn’t improved over the years. And that means that—outside of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses—very few students are tested by this kind of rigorous writing project.

That’s not a good trend. I believe that school policymakers should bring back the practice of assigning serious research papers to high school students. I encourage schools to adopt my Paper Per Year Plan©, which calls on schools to assign research papers that require students to write one more page, with one more source, for every grade of schooling. Even a first-grader should be writing one-page papers with one source listed.

I often get question on the value of term papers, so here is a response to some of the more frequently asked questions.

Why should it matter if students are writing lengthy term papers?

“Two great things about serious research papers: They ask for a lot of reading, and as a result, the student learns a lot about something. This encourages students to believe that, through their own efforts for the most part, they can learn about other things in the future. In addition, a serious research paper can help them keep out of remedial reading and writing classes at college.”

To engage students, some educators are allowing students to communicate through a variety of media. Is this innovative—or a mistake?

“This is a mistake by teachers desperate to pander to student interests instead of requiring them to do the hard work essential to their education. When the Business Roundtable companies spend $3 billion-plus each year on remedial writing courses for their employees—hourly and salaried, current and new—they do not have them write blogs, read comic books, or enjoy PowerPoint presentations. That would waste their money and the time of students, and it wouldn’t accomplish the remedial writing tasks.”

Is the term paper really dead? You’re still publishing term papers in your quarterly, so you must still be seeing teachers—and students—who are rising to the highest standards?

“The papers I have been getting continue to impress me. I could tell you stories of students who spend months on their submissions to The Concord Review and then send me an Emerson Prize-winning 15,000-word paper. Many of these students are going well beyond the expectations and standards of their schools because they seek to be published. But, as I say, for most students, they are never asked even to try a serious history research paper.

In general, it is safe to say that all U.S. public high schools are unlikely to assign rigorous term papers, and the kids suffer accordingly.”

What advice can you offer to school board members and administrators as they struggle to raise student skills in reading and writing?

“The California State College System reports that 47 percent of their freshmen are in remedial reading courses, and in a survey of college professors by The Chronicle of Higher Education, 90 percent of them said their students are not very well prepared in reading or writing, or in doing research.

So school board members should be aware of how poorly we are preparing our kids in nonfiction reading and academic expository writing—and they should ask their superintendents what can be done about that.

I’ve argued that, if reading and writing is a serious skill that kids need, then we have to decide if we are willing to invest [in this effort]. Kids are spending three or four hours of time on homework a week and 54 hours on entertainment. It’s not going to kill them to spend four more hours a week on a paper.”

 

 

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One Response to “Employers Biggest Complaint: HS Graduates Need to Write Better”

  1. Diane says:

    What is it they expect? They continue to flood the kids with computers, iPODS, GameBoys, everything in the world electronic so that they do not need to think, comprehend – heck they can’t read for the same reasons.

    Why are the college’s complaining! They have been complicit in this whole “dumbing down” process of our kids – changing the curriculum everytime you turn around, lousy, lousy textbooks – I could go on forever!

    Eveyone wants to put blame somewhere and that is fine with me, but when you do, make sure you can back it up!
    Now they have changed the rules of the game again and now it is fully on the shoulders of the teachers and why? You give them garbage to teach, you are gonna get garbage out! And the taxpayers get to pay for it aain in the Common Core Standards!

    What about the parents who send their kids to school every day, always too busy to help, pay attendtion until all of a sudden “Oh my gosh, my kids school is failing, the kids are failing! Well it didn’t happen overnight! Ever look into what is causing it?

    Don’t whine to me you have to work and have so many obligations – I was married to a career navy man, raised 5 kids, worked a fulltime job, was active in their schools and they were in girl scouts, boy scouts, and played ball from the time they were 4. You can do it if you want to! If you don’t want the responsibility that goes with having children then don’t have them! Children take responsibility and there is more to it than just putting a roof over their head, clothes on their back and food in their tummy’s!

    Heck no – it is easier to blame someone else and then the legislators will come along and push the “Parent Empowerment Act” or the “Parent Trigger Act” so parents can take over their schools and bounce the kids again!

    Get a grip all of you! Take education out of the Federal government, out of the state governemnt and take on the rsponsibility where it belongs – in the home with the parents! Stop faalling for all the Charter school push, empowerment – it is garbage! HOME SCHOOL!

    Checked lately what these college and university professors are making for a few hours a day and you ask why the fees are goiung up? Do you think they care about your kids? Heck they get paid whether they show up to class or not! They take and pay K-12 teachers barely enough to live on in the State but yet they are expected to teach with faulty textbooks & curriculum and then take the blame for the kids failing while the colleges complain they can’t write!

    No I am not a teacher, never have been and I belong to no unions and never did! But right is right – open your eyes people!

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