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The Value of Term Papers

September 28, 2006

William Fitzhugh, founder and editor of the Concord Review, published an opinion piece in the New York Sun a few weeks back on the value of Term Papers. The Concord Review publishes high-quality high school term papers dealing with history. Since I too highly value term papers – but in college courses, especially surveys – I want to highlight some applicable lowlights from his piece.

– “With funding from the Albert Shanker Institute (affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers) the Concord Review commissioned a study of the state of the history research paper in public high schools in America in 2002.”
– “We found that, while 95% of teachers praised the value of research papers, 81% never assigned a 5,000-word paper, and 62% never assigned a 3,000-word paper in history classes. Most teachers said they simply did not have time to assign, monitor, and read history papers, so they didn’t have their students do them.”
– “There are real consequences for students who go on to college or to jobs. The Business Roundtable reported on a survey of its member companies in 2004, in which it had found that they were spending $3,090,943,194 annually on remedial writing courses for their salaried and hourly employees, in about equal numbers. American College Testing (ACT) reported this spring that 49% of the high school graduates they tested were unable to read at the level of college freshman texts.”
– “James Story, an education policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation reported in the September 2006 School Reform News, “Nearly 50 percent of Texas college freshmen require remedial or corrective courses.” Of course some of this remediation is in math, but a large share is in reading and writing.”
– Laura Arandes, Harvard Class of 2005, wrote, in a letter to me, that she was shocked by how poorly her public high school in California had prepared her for college papers. She had never been assigned anything more than a five-paragraph essay, at which, she said, she was quite good. She commented to [Fitzhugh], ‘This lack of forethought on the part of high school educators and administrators is creating a large divide among college graduates — and it’s one that helps neither the students nor their alumni institutions. Modern public high schools have an obligation not simply to pump out graduates at the end of the year, but also to prepare their students for the intellectual rigors of college.'”

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What I think is most hurtful about students not having to write long, non-fiction compositions is that they lose appreciation for others’ important and relevant non-fiction works – especially books. They lose the necessary appreciation and attention span for reading. So, every time a history instructor neglects assigning a long paper, they’re undermining potential readership for their own works. The circle of appreciation is broken. – TL

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