Thursday, September 8, 2016


It is not that Chester Finn and others do not “support” student academic expository writing.

It is simply beneath their notice.

Colleges routinely complain about “book virgins” who arrive on campus never having read a book, and about poor writing skills (most have a year of remedial writing now), although the Director of the Harvard Writing Program (Expos) once said she thought HS students don’t have enough time to write about themselves (sic).

But neither Finn, nor Hess, nor Petrilli, nor Loveless, nor Hanushek, nor Peterson, etc., etc., knows, for example, whether American HS students are ever asked to read one complete nonfiction (e.g. history) book or to write one serious (nonfiction) term paper before they graduate and go to college.

Why don’t they know? Because the actual academic work of students (the main point of schooling) is beneath their notice, as they wrestle with the higher issues of politics, legislation, standards for math and basic reading, etc.

No one I could find at the Harvard Ed School reported any research interest in physics, history, literature, languages, chemistry, or any other academic subject, for which we build schools.

Our EdReform Big Domes have simply overlooked the actual academic work of students as not worthy of their attention. IMHO.

Will Fitzhugh

The Concord Review
September 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016



Will Fitzhugh, 

The Concord Review
August 24, 2016

The Boston Globe has been publishing for 144 years, and each Fall, Winter and Spring the paper publishes a special section, of 14 pages or so, on notable local public high school athletes and their coaches. There is a mention of athletes and coaches at local prep schools as well.

When The Boston Globe’s “ALL-SCHOLASTICS” Winter section arrives, it includes the “ten moments that stood out among the countless athletic stories in Massachusetts.” There are reports on the best HS athletes and coaches in Skiing, Boys’ Basketball, Girls’ Basketball, Boys’ Hockey, Girls’ Hockey, Boys’ Track, Girls’ Track, Boys’ Swimming, Girls’ Swimming, Preps, Wrestling, and Gymnastics, etc. The Preps and Gymnastics parts consolidate boys’ and girls’ accomplishments, perhaps to save space (and cost).

Each full-page section also features photographs of 9-16 athletes, with perhaps a twitter-sized paragraph on their achievements. In addition, there are 30 photos and tweets about some coaches, spread among the various sports. There are 26 “Prep” athletes mentioned, from various sports, but I haven't seen any “Prep” coaches profiled. For each high school sport there are two “athletes of the year” identified, and all the coaches are “coaches of the year” in their sport.

There may be, at this time, some high school “students of the year” in English, math, Chinese, physics, Latin, chemistry, European history, U.S. history, biology, and the like. There may also be high school “teachers of the year” in these and other academic subjects, but their names, photos, and descriptions are not to be found in The Boston Globe, perhaps the most well-known paper in the “Athens of America” (Boston).

It may be the case, indeed it probably is the case, that some of the athletes featured in the “All-Scholastics” sections are also high school students of math, history, English, science, and languages, but you would not know that from the coverage of The Boston Globe. The coaches of the year may in many, if not all, cases, also be teachers of academic subjects in the Massachusetts public and private schools, but that remains only a guess as well.

When the British architect Christopher Wren was buried in 1723, part of his epitaph, written by his eldest son, Christopher Wren, Jr., read: “Lector, si monumentum requiris, Circumspice.” If you wanted to judge his interest, efforts, and accomplishments, all you had to do was look around you. His work was there for all to see.

The work of Massachusetts high school athletes and coaches is all around us in The Boston Globe on a regular basis, but the work of our high school scholars and teachers is nowhere to be seen in that public record.

If one seeks a monument to anti-academic and anti-intellectual views and practices in Boston today, one need look no further than The Boston Globe. I read it every day, but if it folded, I would not miss its attention to and recognition of the academic efforts and accomplishments of Massachusetts secondary students and their teachers, because there is none now, and never has been any, no matter how many reports on education reform and academic standards it may have published over the years. If you ask how much The Boston Globe editors (and I am sure The Globe is not alone in this) care about the good academic work now actually being done by high school teachers and their students in Massachusetts, the answer is, from the evidence, that they do not.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016


In the March 14, 2001, issue of Education Week, Victor Henningsen, director of the history department at Phillips Academy in Andover, had this to say about term papers: “There’s no substitute for the thrill that comes from choosing a topic of your own and wrestling with a mass of evidence to answer a question that you have posed, to craft your own narrative and your own analysis. We’ve been teaching kids to write research papers here for a long time. Kids don’t remember the advanced placement exam, but they do remember the papers they have written, and so do I.”

Teacher Magazine
March 1, 2002
The Making of a Relic

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

It seems likely that the history research paper at the high school level is now an endangered species. Focus on creative writing, fear of plagiarism, fascination with PowerPoint presentations, and lack of planning time have been joined by a notable absence of concern about term papers in virtually all of the work on state standards. As a result, far too many American high school students never get the chance to do the reading and writing that a serious history paper requires. They then enter college with no experience in writing papers, to the continual frustration of their professors, and of the employers who later hire them. The Ford Motor Co., for example, had to institute writing classes to ensure that their people are able to produce readable reports, memos, and the like.

A few years ago, a survey of English and social studies standards by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation showed that term papers are, indeed, ignored. The Pew Charitable Trust’s Standards for Success program, with its focus on high school and college articulation of standards and expectations, likewise includes no term papers. Neither has the American Diploma Project in Washington, D.C., working to define the expectations of high schools, colleges, and employers, yet found a place in its deliberations for history research papers. One problem for these groups and others, of course, is that serious term papers cannot be assessed in a one-hour objective test. But their impact on students and the consequences of never having done one can be incalculable.

In the early 1980s, while I was teaching American history to high school sophomores in Concord, Massachusetts, each of my students had to write a biographical paper on a U.S. president. One student chose John F. Kennedy, and I lent him a copy of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s A Thousand Days. The boy took a look at the rather large book, and told me, “I can’t read this.” I said, “Yes, you can,” and eventually, he was able to finish it. Five or six years later, out of the blue, I got a letter from the student. He was now a Junior at Yale, and he wanted to thank me for making him read Schlesinger’s book. It was the first serious work of nonfiction he had ever read, and being able to get through it had done something for his self-confidence. Of course, he was the one who had forced himself to read the book, but the anecdote points up one of the great advantages of working on a history term paper. The experience often will mark the first time a high school student discovers that he or she is capable of reading a book on an important topic.

When I was an alumni interviewer for Harvard College, I asked one high school boy what he thought he might major in. History, he replied. I had said nothing about my own interest in the subject, and all he knew about me was that I was an alum. But after he gave me his answer, I naturally asked what his favorite history book was. Before long, it became clear that, while this student had achieved good grades and advanced placement scores, he had studied only textbooks. No one had ever handed him a good history book and encouraged him to read it, apparently. More than likely, he had never had to write a serious history paper either. If he had, he might have been forced to read a book or two in the field.

In the March 14, 2001, issue of Education Week, Victor Henningsen, director of the history department at Phillips Academy in Andover, had this to say about term papers; “There’s no substitute for the thrill that comes from choosing a topic of your own and wrestling with a mass of evidence to answer a question that you have posed, to craft your own narrative and your own analysis. We’ve been teaching kids to write research papers here for a long time. Kids don’t remember the advanced placement exam, but they do remember the papers they have written, and so do I.”

Since 1987, I have been the editor of The Concord Review, a quarterly journal of history research papers written by high school students. We’ve published 528 [1,198] papers (averaging 7,400 words, including endnotes and bibliography) by students from 42 [44] states and 33 [40] foreign countries. Out of some 22,000 public and private high schools in the United States, we receive about 600 [200] essays a year, from which we publish 11 in each issue. If you do the calculation, that means that more than 21,000 high schools do not even submit one history essay for consideration in a given year. While this may not prove that exceptional history essays are not being written at those schools, it is not an encouraging sign.

As for what teachers expect in their high school history classes in lieu of research papers, I have only anecdotal evidence. I met with the head of the history department at a public high school in New Jersey once, a man very active in the National Council for History Education, and asked him why he never sent papers from his best students to The Concord Review. He said he didn’t have his students do research papers anymore; they make PowerPoint presentations and write historical fiction instead. When I asked the now-retired head of history at Scarsdale High School in New York, why, even though he subscribed to The Concord Review, he never submitted student papers for consideration, he too said he no longer assigned papers. After the AP exam, he would hold what he called the Trial of James Buchanan for his role in helping to precipitate the Civil War. His students would then write responses on that subject instead.

After I published her paper on the Women’s Temperance Union, the class valedictorian at a public high school on Staten Island wrote me to say she felt weak in expository writing and offered some reasons. Here are her words: “I attend a school where students are given few opportunities to develop their talents in this field. It is assumed students will learn how to write in college.” I feel confident in saying that, on the college side, there is the expectation that students will learn at least the rudiments of putting together a research paper while they are still in high school. College humanities professors, slow to learn perhaps, are routinely surprised when they find that this is not the case. And rightly so. What is at work here?

For one thing, creative writing often rules at the high school level (and earlier in many cases). Even the director of Harvard’s Expository Writing program for undergraduates has said she thinks that teenagers don’t get enough chances to write about their feelings, anxieties, hopes, and dreams, and that they shouldn’t be pushed to work on research papers until college. The National Writing Project in Berkeley, California, a program that reaches hundreds of teachers each year, takes a postmodern approach to what it calls “Literatures,” and never comes within a mile of considering that students could use some work on research skills and expository writing.

I have actually seen what teenagers can do, and it is more like the following, an excerpt from an essay published a few years back in The Concord Review. (more examples at This passage concludes an essay by a high school Junior who went on to major in civil engineering at Princeton, get a Ph.D. in earthquake engineering at Stanford, and she is now an assistant professor of engineering at Cornell.

As is usually the case with extended, deeply-held disagreements, no one person or group was the cause of the split in the woman suffrage movement. On both sides, a stubborn eagerness to enfranchise women hindered the effort to do so. Abolitionists and Republicans refused to unite equally with woman suffragists. Stanton and Anthony, blinded for a while by their desperation to succeed, turned to racism, putting blacks and women against each other at a time when each needed the other’s support most. The one thing that remains clear is that, while in some ways it helped women discover their own power, the division of forces weakened the overall strength of the movement. As a result of the disagreements within the woman suffrage movement, the 1860s turned out to be a missed opportunity for woman suffragists, just as Stanton had predicted. After the passage of the 15th Amendment, they were forced to wait another 50 years for the fulfillment of their dream.

High school kids are fully capable of writing long, serious history papers. And they will get a lot out of doing so, not only in terms of reading nonfiction, but also in learning to write nonfiction themselves. These days, too many of our students are not given that chance to grow. Colleges may continue doing what they can to help teenagers master the rudiments of expository writing, but much of what these high school students have lost can never be recouped in remedial coursework.

“Teach with Examples”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics™

Tuesday, May 10, 2016


EDUCATION NEWS, Houston, Texas

World Class Publication offers Summer Program for High School Students

May 9, 2016 by Will Fitzhugh EducationViews Contributor

A world-class history quarterly, The Concord Review, holds a writing workshop for high school students.

Will Fitzhugh
Sudbury, Massachusetts—May 9, 2016


    College bound high school students can now learn from one of the best sources in the country. The Concord Review [] is offering a two-week intensive expository writing workshops, led by a Harvard Ph.D. historian. The workshop will be held on the campus of Regis College, just west of Boston in Weston, Massachusetts.

    Thirty percent of students published in The Concord Review have been admitted to Harvard, Princeton, Stanford or Yale, and many have gone to other Ivy League colleges, and MIT, Oxford, Cambridge, the London School of Economics, Caltech, and so forth. The Dean of Admissions at Harvard has written: “We have been very happy to have reprints of essays published in The Concord Review, submitted by a number of our applicants over the years, to add to the information we consider in making admission decisions…All of us here in the Admissions Office are big fans of The Concord Review.”

    132 of the TCR authors have gone to Harvard—11%.

    The Concord Review has been, since 1987, the only journal in the world for the academic history papers of secondary students, now with 1,198 essays [average length 7,400 words] by students from 44 states and 40 other countries.

    Students who work on research papers during the TCR Summer Program are not guaranteed to be published in the journal, but the work they will do gives them an advantage in preparation for expository writing in college over their peers who do not have such practice.

    There are very few opportunities for high school students to work on serious term papers in history. Most of the emphasis is on STEM and personal writing, and usually high school teachers have so many students that they cannot possibly find the time to advise students on a 5,000-word history paper. A national study, commissioned by The Concord Review, found that a very large majority of high school teachers do not assign term papers, and colleges only ask for the 500-word personal essay. As a result almost all of our high school graduates arrive in college never having written a serious research paper. This is the reason so many colleges, even Harvard and Stanford, now require a writing course for all their first-year students.

    The instructor for the course holds a Ph.D. in Modern European History from Harvard University, and has advised many Harvard undergraduates on their honors theses.

    The course is full for this Summer, and includes students from Korea and China, as well as from across the United States. Students are welcome to join the waitlist at

Friday, April 15, 2016


...research papers published by high school students in The Concord Review are seen by admissions officers at all marquee-name colleges and universities as impeccable proof of their ability to do outstanding work.

Education Week

Who's a Qualified College Applicant?

By Walt Gardner on April 15, 2016 7:39 AM

Despite efforts over the years to accurately evaluate high school seniors for admission, colleges and universities have continued to give inordinate weight to traditional evidence.  But that may be finally changing ("The Radical New Ways Colleges Are Sizing Up Students," Time, Apr. 7). 

Nearly 100 schools, including all the Ivies, have formed the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success. Its purpose is to rely more heavily on creative materials such as personal videos, digital portfolios and comic strips to help students present themselves as worthy candidates for admission. Such materials would not replace traditional data, such as standardized test scores, GPAs and recommendations, but supplement them.

I understand the intent of this change, but I question its fundamental value. How does the ability to create a personal video indicate the ability to write a research paper?  Sooner or later, freshmen are going to have to demonstrate their academic skills. For example, research papers published by high school students in The Concord Review are seen by admissions officers at all marquee-name colleges and universities as impeccable proof of their ability to do outstanding work.

I have no problem with using alternative evidence to supplement traditional data, but I fear that the former will eventually overshadow the latter. We've seen the dumbing down of higher education over the years as we've become obsessed with college for all.  Frankly, I don't know what a bachelor's degree means anymore. I support efforts to increase diversity on campus as long as that does not vitiate academic quality. Personal videos and the like certainly can demonstrate creativity, but is that creativity relevant to the reading and writing skills needed to succeed once students are admitted?

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


Ability & Effort

Will Fitzhugh

The Concord Review []
29 November 2006

    Students who do good academic work in high school and who are also good athletes are often puzzled that they get so much more recognition for their sports achievements than they do for the academic work on which they may have put forward the same high level of effort.

    Of course, success in academics and success in athletics may both be attributed to both genes and effort, but for some reason we in the United States have decided to celebrate athletic achievement as though it were purely the result of effort and to be much more circumspect about celebrating academic achievement in the schools, as though it were the result purely of genes (ability). Naturally, it isn’t fair to praise someone for their genes!

    Most Asian countries, according to Stevenson & Stigler (The Learning Gap) believe that effort rather than ability is most responsible for success in school, but we tend to lean the other way.

    Over the last 19 [29] years, I have published 748 [1,198] history research papers by high school students from 44 states and 33 [40] other countries. In that time, I have had some interesting comments from our authors. I went to visit a high school senior in Connecticut some years ago, whose essay on the Great Awakening won an Emerson Prize. She was all-state soccer in Connecticut and everyone in school knew that, but no one knew she had been published in The Concord Review. She went on to play on her college soccer team, at Dartmouth, but she also graduated summa cum laude in science and has since completed Harvard Medical School.

    Another of our authors, Sophia Parker Snyder, who is a Senior at Harvard College now, wrote me:

    “It is absolutely wonderful to know that there is someone in this world who appreciates the academic achievements of high school students. As a scholar-athlete, I am often shocked at the greater rewards I reap for my athletic achievements, regardless of the fact that these accomplishments are far less important than my intellectual ones. This approach to scholarship and athleticism seems to me completely backwards, and I am glad that you and your publication are doing something to right this wrong.”

Strong words, perhaps, but what are the consequences of the attitudes she describes? It is interesting that high school coaches often know and talk with college coaches, and that college coaches take a real interest in high school athletes, yet history teachers, for example, hear nothing from college history professors, who also take no interest in high school history students, however outstanding they may be. The irony is that the high school coach is often a history teacher and the outstanding high school athlete may be a first-rate history student as well, but they get the message from our society that what they do in athletics matters and what they do in academics does not.

    This tendency to downplay good academic work naturally influences other students who might be capable of better work if they decided to put in some more effort, or even a lot more effort, but if academic work is not that important, then why should they?

    The purpose of The Concord Review over the years has been to find exemplary academic work by high school students of history (and we have) and to distribute it as widely as possible to show teachers and other students what some of their peers are doing. The fine essays have come in, but the numbers of schools and teachers who have been willing to put good examples of history research papers before their students as an incentive have been quite small so far.

    Some Teaching American History programs even decided that showing teachers fine academic work might just discourage them or their students. We would have to stop showing National Basketball Association games on television if we thought that showing them to students would make them all give up at basketball. Of course we don’t have to do that, because outstanding athletic performances just make high school athletes want to try harder to excel.

    We need to cultivate that same confidence in our students when it comes to academics. We need to have faith that celebrating outstanding academic work and showing it to our young people will not scare them off, but will give them an incentive to put forth their very best efforts on their most important work—their school work.

“Teach with Examples”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®




Wednesday, March 23, 2016


School Information System
Education: Investing in Our Future

5 March 2008

THE WHOLE CHILD; Houston, Texas; 1 March 2008

Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

    Here in Massachusetts these days, we are hearing more and more from the Governor and educators about “The Whole Child.” They say we should be sure, in our schools, not to get distracted from a focus, in a holistic way, on the whole child.

    I have heard about this “whole child,” but I have yet to have anyone explain what that could mean. I know that it has been said, of boys, for instance, that they are made of “snakes and snails and puppy dogs’ tails,” and of girls, that they are mostly “sugar and spice and everything nice,” but I can’t believe that completes the inventory.

    Each student may be considered from a neuro-psychological, socio-economic, philosophical, dental, muscular-skeletal, ethnic, spiritual, academic, motivational, personality configuration, family, allergic, drug-resistant, blood-type, intellectual, gastrointestinal and athletic point of view, among a large group of other perspectives.

    This raises the question of what parts of the whole child the school might be best qualified and equipped to work with? Surely no imaginable set of teachers, nurses, hall monitors, principals, bus drivers, coaches, and so on can deal with all the various characteristics of each human being who comes as a student to their school.

    It would appear that a school and its staff might have to choose which aspects of the whole child should be their focus. In recent decades, self-esteem, tolerance, social consciousness, respect for differences, and environmental awareness have taken up a good deal of time in the schools. Perhaps as a consequence, our students tend to be in-numerate and a-literate. The Boston Globe reports today that: “37 percent of public high school graduates who enter public higher education may not be ready.”

    In addition, our students, when compared with students taught abroad, often perform below average on international examinations of their academic fitness.

    Some educators, who may not have been all that academically inclined themselves in school, and who have experienced a focus in their graduate education programs on social justice, self-esteem, diversity training, environmental awareness and so on, find that they really do not know enough history, mathematics, science, literature, foreign languages and so on to teach them very well, and they may want to fall back on the sort of thing they studied at their schools of education and offer that to their students instead.

    When confronted with those, such as parents, who would like them to teach students history, mathematics, science, literature, foreign languages, academic expository writing and the like, many educators defend themselves by claiming that they cannot focus so much on academics because they have a holistic interest in the whole child.

    As it turns out, our society has people who can help them with this unwieldy burden. There are priests, rabbis, ministers, rishis and others who can help with young people's spiritual needs. There are medical professionals who can help students with their physical and mental health problems. There are activist organizations of many kinds to help them with social justice and environmental concerns. And there are many other social organizations, not excluding families, who can relieve our educators of the need they feel to “address” the whole child.

    Happily this allows educators to return to their original and traditional mission of teaching our students knowledge and academic skills, such as reading, writing and calculating. With the extra time available to them, now that they no longer have to worry about improving every aspect of their students’ lives, they can do much more to see that their students may enter college with the academic readiness they will need to survive there, and to enter the workforce with the literacy and numeracy skills so many employers have been begging for.

    It may be a wrench to give up the ambitious project of holistically taking on the whole child, with their multiple intelligences and so many other characteristics, but a new focus on academic work may, by itself, help to reduce the contempt in which so many of our schools and educators are now held by the nation whose young people they could be serving so much better.


“Teach with Examples”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]

National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Academic Coaches [2014]

730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®