College & Workforce Readiness

Is the High School Research Paper Dying?

By Catherine Gewertz — September 14, 2009 1 min read
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An interesting article in the Cincinnati Enquirer poses a scary question: Is the in-depth high school research paper becoming a thing of the past?

The newspaper describes the challenging papers assigned to students at one Ohio school, and details the various reasons that few teachers assign such projects any more (including too little time to grade them). But it also quotes experts and cites research that make the case for pushing past the difficulties to make sure students master the skills of researching and writing major papers.

Since the Enquirer story doesn’t provide links to the interesting research it cites, let me do that here. Check out the 2005 report by Achieve Inc., which found that 56 percent of high school students felt that they left school with inadequate work and study habits, 40 percent felt they left with weak research skills, and half or more of college instructors were unhappy with students’ writing or research skills. (And take a look at EdWeek‘s story about it, too.)

Also, The Concord Review, which publishes outstanding student research papers, surveyed teachers in 2002 and found that 95 percent think in-depth research papers are important, but most no longer assign them.

You might also be interested in the reflections of The Concord Review‘s editor and publisher, Will Fitzhugh, on these issues in ASCD’s magazine, as well.

Is teachers’ reluctance to assign in-depth research papers one reason for the increasing popularity of AP classes? Do the papers assigned in AP classes meet this need sufficiently? And are we hopeless, outdated fuddy-duddies—or right on target—when we argue for the importance of the in-depth research paper (note the assistant principal in the Enquirer story who says it’s not about the length of the paper, it’s about the skills acquired in writing it)?

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School Connections blog.