Not ready for college writing

Many high schools no longer teach students to write a research paper, history teacher Doris Burton told Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews, who believes college-bound students should have to write a 4,000-word paper (roughly 16 pages). In response, Kate Simpson, an English professor at Lord Fairfax Community College asked her first-year students, who’d just finished a three-week research writing project, to write about their preparation for writing long papers.

She said she discovered that 40 percent of her 115 students thought that their high schools had not prepared them for college-level writing. Only 23 percent thought they had those writing skills. Other responses were mixed.

Twenty-nine percent “felt that students should be taught to write lengthy papers in high school,” Simpson reported.

“Not once in my four years of high school was I required to turn in a paper of over 1,000 words,” one student wrote. Several others said their teachers didn’t assign long papers because they didn’t have time to grade them.

As a baby boomer, I wrote a number of research papers in high school, though I don’t think any ran more than 10 pages. We certainly learned to use the library, fill out index cards and cite sources.

Now, when nearly every student is expected to go to college, they spend more time writing personal essays in journals than they learning how to research and write a college-level paper.

San Jose’s Downtown College Prep, the school in my book, Our School, sent all of its first graduating class to college. When students visited Sonoma State the following year, Javier complained that he hadn’t been prepared to write a footnoted research paper. In the bus on the way back to school, the teachers redesigned the curriculum to ensure that in future every student would write a college-style research paper before graduation. “Javier was right,” the history teacher told me. “Students need to learn this before they go to college.”

Fighting against the tide, Will Fitzhugh’s Concord Review publishes high school students’ research papers.

POSTED BY Joanne Jacobs ON July 16, 2010

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Clay Boggess

This is as amazing as it is perplexing. “Several others said their teachers didn’t assign long papers because they didn’t have time to grade them.” Teachers, what is your job and where are your priorities? Perhaps you need to make the time.

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I wrote a college-standard research paper for English in both my junior and senior years. I didn’t have any in history because history, unlike English, was not a college-prep-only class at my school A relative, who taught history in another school, came home with similar papers to grade at Christmas and over spring break. In English, we also did many 1-2 page (typed) papers outside class and many 1-page papers in class. Typically, either a question or a quote was written on the board, which we would answer or identify and discuss. It was all wonderful prep for college English, history and philosophy papers.


The idea of “student-centered learning” has come to mean, for the student, “it’s all about me!” What passes for math curricula are replete with questions like “What do you think?”.

Adolescence is the time in which people are naturally imbued with more concern than sense. Traditionally, we beat some knowledge into kids by forcing them to prove what they were saying. Cite some gorram sources and evidence to demonstrate what you are arguing.

These days we can’t let kids feel like what they say has no value simply because it has no basis in reality. Until we have successfully exterminated every last vestige of the 60s “Feel Good” claptrap, we will continue to develop a generation of ignoramuses who will continue to fall for every sweet talking demagogue who comes down the pike.

Marie Hathaway

Could it possibly be that the focus on raising test scores has outweighed actual education in classrooms? Oh shock, horror.

This begins in 1st grade and becomes a larger and larger problem through 12th grade. When 1st graders are only learning math and reading skills (without history, social studies, science, art or music) so that their teachers can prepare them for tests; when 2nd graders perform plays or present their “reports” only in the month AFTER high stakes testing before the end of the school year – then teachers have already decided research and true learning really aren’t all that important. And the students pick up on it. And the school focuses more on test preparation because how could students possibly LEARN while doing research?

Real learning is fading away because politicians and parents have decided the only way they can see results is a score on a piece of paper.


Perhaps you need to make the time.

Seriously? Since when are teachers the ones who determine their work schedules?

Let’s be generous and say we take just FIFTEEN MINUTES to grade each ten-page paper. With a courseload of 175 students, which is quite reasonable, that’s 43 hours, 45 minutes of actual grading time.

Let’s say teachers get an hour every day for planning (most have less, but it makes the arithmetic easier). Now we don’t want to stop teaching just because we’ve got all these papers to grade, so let’s set aside half of it for continued planning and OTHER grading. That means that given the time teachers are allotted, it would take 98 days to finish grading that ONE assignment.

But wait! I hear you cry. Teachers aren’t supposed to have families, or doctor appointments, or friends, or religious services, or household chores. Teachers should dedicate their ENTIRE BEING to their work, because it’s not a career, it’s a calling!

Ugh. What utter claptrap.

The time that we spend grading research papers is time that can NOT be used to create new resources or lessons for our students, time that can NOT be used to respond in greater detail to shorter assignments, time that can NOT be used to learn about new instructional or management techniques, or about new technologies and how to incorporate them to improve student achievement.

Then again, it’s also time in which we’re not subjected to nonsense from self-righteous idiots. Definitely a plus.


You are also not taking into account the massive number of hours of prescriptive lessons that are devoted to meeting NCLB testing mandates. Schools don’t have time for anything that does not contribute to their students scoring well on that one-time, single shot test. All other considerations, like college prep are shoved to the back burner.

Lets get rid of one-size fits none, cookie cutter testing and maybe we can get back to actually educating students. Until then, stop blaming teachers for things we have no control over. Our curriculum, lessons and time are all planned for us due to NCLB.


One fifteen page paper takes less time than ten 1.5 pagers. I think, and I wrote about this earlier, that research papers should be part of a separate course for seniors. Equal parts SAT prep, college admissions, and research paper, the Senior Seminar Course should be an additional requirement alongside English 12.


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English Teacher

It isn’t the grading that takes so long or that is the most valuable service to our students. It is commenting and marking errors. I am grading 1000-word research papers for our Senior Project, and they are taking me from 30 minutes to 90 minutes apiece. But I have to have a life, clean clothes, food, healthful activities, and business and medical requirements too. I get depressed trying to do a good job for my students and my school and still function in my personal life. But then I read something wonderful, feel better, and keep going. I can’t let it get me down.

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