NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Writin� Needs Improvement

June 5, 2003

In response to growing concerns of businesses, educators and policy-makers about the low level of student writing skills, a panel is recommending a writing agenda for the nation's schools.

Based on an April 2003 report produced by the National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges, the panel recommends doubling the time most K-12 students currently spend on writing, requiring all prospective teachers be grounded in the theory and practice of writing as a condition of licensure and making sure a comprehensive writing policy is part of all state standards.

The report found:

  • Most fourth-grade students spend less than three hours week writing, which is approximately the same amount of time per day they spend watching television.
  • Nearly 66 percent of high school seniors do not write a three-page paper as often as once a month for their English teachers.
  • Three-quarters of high school seniors never receive a writing assignment in history or social studies.
  • The senior research project has become an educational curiosity, something rarely assigned because teachers do not have time to correct such projects.

None of these findings surprises Will Fitzhugh, president of the National Writing Board and founder and editor of the Concord Review, a quarterly journal of history research papers written by high school students.

"It seems likely that the history research paper at the high school level is now an endangered species," wrote Fitzhugh in January 2002. Among the contributing factors he cited were "fascination with PowerPoint presentations," a lack of time for teachers to read the papers, and "a notable absence of concern for term papers in virtually all the work on state standards."

Source: George A. Clowes, "Too Many Students Flunk Writing: Panel calls for a 'writing revolution'," School Reform News, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2003, the Heartland Institute.


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