History Research Paper Study

News Archives

Mr. Fitzhugh is the founder of the Concord Review.

Early in 2001, The Concord Review approached the Albert Shanker
Institute for support for a study of the state of the history research
paper in United States high schools.

The result, a study conducted by the Center for Survey Research and
Analysis at the University of Connecticut, is now ready.

We had a concern that, with all the emphasis on state tests to measure
progress on state standards, the research paper, which cannot be
measured on a standardized test, would be forgotten. College professors
had been complaining for years that incoming students had no idea how to
write papers, and some employers were setting up writing courses for
their new college graduate employees.

While there were many anecdotes about the dominance of creative writing
and the personal essay, we believed it would be useful to conduct a
study to see how many teachers were assigning history research papers,
and what some of the problems with such assignments might be.

The study found that while 95% of those teachers surveyed believe that
writing a research term paper is important or very important, some 62%
of the teachers never assign a paper of moderate length (3,000-5,000
words), and 81% never assign a paper of over 5,000 words.

Candidates for the International Baccalaureate Diploma must complete a
4,000-5,000 word Extended Essay, and The Concord Review has published
572 history research papers (average 5,000 words with endnotes and
bibliography) by high school students from 42 states (and 33 other
countries) in the last 15 years.

Many of these essays were from private school students, but many were
also from the students of overworked public high school teachers,
including a number who were preparing their students for AP and IB and
ACT exams.

The principal obstacles cited by those surveyed for this study were the
amount of time required for reading and grading long research papers,
and the fact that this time almost always had to be taken from personal
timein the evenings, on weekends, early in the morning, and so on.
There seems to be no provision given in the school day or the school
year for teachers to give the attention to serious research papers that
they inevitably require. High school teachers have no Reading Days at
the end of term, but perhaps they should, if we want students to learn
how to write a decent term paper once before they graduate. In addition,
31% of the high school teachers said that assigning and correcting term
papers would take too much time away from other tasks, for instance
preparing for AP or state assessments, or simply covering course material.

Many people do not consider the fact that if a teacher in a public high
school has five classes of thirty students each and he/she assigns a
20-page paper to each one, then when the papers come in, he/she will
have 3,000 pages to proofread, correct, and comment on. Any simple
calculation will reveal that this would be prohibitively time-consuming
for anyone who has to continue teaching five classes, give tests, and so on.

What is lost, then, if 81% of high school teachers do not ever assign a
5,000-word history research paper? It may very well mean that a majority
of our high school students never read a complete nonfiction book on any
subject before they graduate. They may also miss the experience of
knowing a fair amount about some important topicmore, for instance,
than anyone else in their class. They may also miss a fundamental step
in their preparation for demanding college work.

This study indicates that this may now be the case for the majority of
our high school students. We must consider supporting teachers, 95% of
whom think research papers are important, by giving them the time during
the regular school day and the regular school year to allow them to
offer this essential academic exercise to all of our candidates for the
high school diploma.

The Concord Review, 730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24, Sudbury,
Massachusetts 01776 USA
800-331-5007 http://www.tcr.org 978-443-0022 fitzhugh@tcr.org

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
National History Club
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, MA 01776 USA
(800) 331-5007

comments powered by Disqus

More Comments:

Jeff Schneider - 11/1/2002

Do you remember high school? How many of you wrote term papers more than three or four pages? High School is not college. I assign a summary and critique paper of about 1500- 1800 words on Frederick Douglass's 4th of July Oration and on Martin Luther King's Letter from Birmingham Jail. These take about 20 to 30 minutes to grade each. I have 165 students. It is normal procedure for me to take three weekends every two months to grade exams which consist of 800 words of identifications and essays. It is always a facsinating experience for me to run into my friends on the street in September who teach college who ask me if I have a two day schedule or a three day schedule this year. Where do the so-called setters of standards imagine they learned to write ten or twelve page papers?? When do they think we have the time, as high school teachers to grade any writing at all?