- The Washington Times - Friday, November 22, 2002

History research papers are becoming a thing of the past as fewer high school teachers are assigning lengthy writing projects that place too much burden on students and teachers alike, a nationwide survey released this week shows.
The survey of 400 high school teachers found that 81 percent of them never assign history papers that are 20 pages long, or 5,000 words. In addition, 62 percent never assign papers that are 15 pages long, or 3,000 words.
Instead, 59 percent of the teachers said they prefer to have students write summaries of assigned readings, and another 61 percent assign opinion essays because of problems with plagiarism and the time constraints of covering centuries in a nine-month school year, the survey shows.
"If research papers aren't dead, they're on life support," said Christopher Barnes, associate director of the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the University of Connecticut, which conducted the first-of-its-kind survey in September and released it this week in the latest issue of the Connecticut-based Concord Review.
"This survey shows that research papers create a dual out-of-school burden on both teachers and students."
The latest results worry educators, who argue that writing research papers teaches students invaluable organizational and research skills and in-depth knowledge of a topic.
"Students are doing less and less writing in every class on every level," said Jerry Martin, president of the Washington-based American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a national education group. "As a result, students aren't learning to write, and without that knowledge, they can't think well. Students can't organize their thoughts in a logical and persuasive way."
By not writing research papers, students become ill-prepared for the demanding college work, said Bradford Wilson, a lecturer in politics at Princeton University.
The trend has become so bad that even some of the nation's top colleges, such as Princeton, have had to add introductory writing courses so incoming freshmen could learn the basics of research writing, Mr. Wilson said.
"It's caused a trickle-up effect with respect to higher education," said Mr. Wilson, who also is the executive director of the National Association of Scholars in New Jersey. "As a result, resources are spent on adding writing courses to teach a skill that should have been taught at the high school level. When new things are added to the curriculum, other things have to be removed."
The survey found that 31 percent of teachers said they don't assign lengthy papers because such projects take too much time away from other instruction.
Another 27 percent said such projects take too much time to read and correct, since each teacher has an average total number of 80 students. Twenty nine percent of teachers spend between 30 minutes and one hour grading each paper.
Twenty percent said they grade the papers at home. Forty-nine percent said it is "very difficult" to grade research papers, compared with the 4 percent who said it is "very easy."
Ten percent of teachers said students were too busy to work on research papers, and another 4 percent blamed plagiarism, which included students buying research papers on the Internet, the survey concluded. Thirty-five percent said plagiarism occurs "very often" with research papers and nearly half said that it occurs "sometimes."
Two percent of teachers said they don't assign research papers because students don't write well, while 1 percent blamed class size, the survey showed.
"[The results] may very well mean that a majority of our high school students never read a complete nonfiction book on any subject before they graduate," said Will Fitzhugh, the journal's editor and publisher in his introduction to the survey, which was published alongside the Review's regular annual roundup of the country's best high school history term papers.
"They may also miss the experience of knowing a fair amount about some important topic more, for instance, than anyone else in their class," he said.

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