Taking Back America By Taking Back Our Schools
3-3-14 The Report Card
By Will Fitzhugh, Publisher of The Concord Review & Bill Korach
Our secondary students need to think about what they have learned, and to communicate their knowledge and their thoughts effectively in their expository writing.
Reading is the path to knowledge, and academic expository writing is the principal means by which knowledge and understanding may be recorded and passed on to others. Sadly this is not the path taken by many K-12 Schools today.
According to Susan Edelman in The New York Post some New York students and their school can’t tell “write from wrong:”
Earlier this month, The Post exposed a scheme at Manhattan’s Murry Bergtraum HS for Business Careers in which failing students could get full credit without attending class, but instead watch video lessons and take tests online. One social-studies teacher had a roster of 475 students in all grades and subjects.
Red-faced administrators encouraged a student letter-writing campaign to attack The Post and defend its “blended learning” program. Eighteen kids e-mailed to argue that their alma mater got a bad rap.
Almost every letter was filled with spelling, grammar and punctuation errors.
A junior wrote: “What do you get of giving false accusations im one of the students that has blended learning I had a course of English and I passed and and it helped a lot you’re a reported your support to get truth information other than starting rumors . . .”
Another wrote: “To deeply criticize a program that has helped many students especially seniors to graduate I should not see no complaints.”
One student said the online system beats the classroom because “you can digest in the information at your own paste.”
“Us as New York City Students deserve respect and encouragement,” one letter read. “We are the future of New York City and for some students, The future of the country.”
A Murry Bergtraum teacher said, “I am embarrassed that the school will graduate students who write this poorly.”
Two blocks from City Hall, Murry Bergtraum, graded “F” by the Department of Education, had a dismal 51.2 percent graduation rate last year. Hundreds of students are over-age and behind schedule.
The “blended learning” program, started last year, helps them load up on credits quickly.
The DOE said 444 students are taking “one or two” such courses, but The Post found that some take up to eight at a time.
The program may violate state rules requiring “substantive interaction” between the student and a teacher certified in the subject.
The school lacks enough teachers to satisfy those needs, but does boast a staffer who specializes in public relations.
The school’s $52,332-a-year “community coordinator,” Kian Brown—also a private “branding” consultant—encouraged kids to write letters to The Post praising Principal Lottie Almonte and her program. Copies went to Chancellor Carmen Fariña.
Some students defended the lack of reading material and live teachers. “After many years of learning with textbooks in every class, some students eventually get restless with that same learning strategy,” one wrote.
Another argued, “It it wasn’t for blended learning course, some of us we wouldn’t be learning at all.” In one e-mail, a student argued the easy credits were necessary because “we need to move on with our lives.”
There are plenty of examples of the kind of writing necessary in higher education and in the work of the world: research papers, proposals, business plans, progress reports, position papers, policy briefs, annual reports, legal opinions, legislation, marketing plans, and so forth.
At present much of student writing in our schools is personal, creative, or the five-paragraph essay. Even the AP programs do not require term papers. According to the 2008 Diploma to Nowhere report from the Strong American Schools program of the Broad and Gates Foundations [Edin08.com], more than a million high school graduates each year are in remedial courses when they come to college. Most of these courses are in remedial math, but a significant percentage of those students are in remedial reading and remedial writing courses.
It seems likely that of those two-thirds of Boston public high school graduates in 2000 who were accepted by colleges, but who failed to earn a bachelor’s degree, an associate’s degree or even a one-year certificate by 2008, many were unprepared in academic expository writing.
In 2006 the Business Roundtable reported to the National Commission on Writing in the Schools that its member companies were spending just more than $3.1 billion annually for remedial writing courses for their employees, evenly spread over current salaried and hourly employees and new salaried and hourly employees. This is evidence that businesses are finding a failure in our students’ preparation in the expository writing skills needed in the current century.
In Massachusetts public schools, neither the book report nor the history research paper nor any sort of term paper is now being required of students often enough to provide them with the experience of academic expository writing necessary to prepare them for the skills in critical thinking and the communication of knowledge and ideas that they are bound to need.
Since 1987, The Concord Review has published 835 [1,099 in 2014] exemplary research papers by high school students from 44  states and several  other countries to provide models and a challenge to high school teachers and students who understand that they need to spend more time and effort on the skills of nonfiction reading and academic expository writing.