Monday, December 16, 2013



Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
16 December 2013

In 1891, when Mr. James Naismith (he got his MD in 1898) put two peach baskets with the bottoms out at about 10 feet up at each end of the gymnasium in Springfield, Massachusetts, how many high school students do you think could make the three-point shot? Zero.

Today, when people see the exemplary history research papers published in The Concord Review, the most common reaction is: “These were written by High School Students?!” The reason for this disbelief is that most adults (even Edupudits, etc.) today no more expect high school student to write 11,000-word research papers than people in 1891 expected them to be able to make a three-point shot or dunk the basketball.

Theodore Sizer, late Dean of the Harvard School of Education and Headmaster of Phillips Academy, Andover, wrote, in 1988, that:

“Americans shamefully underestimate their adolescents. With often misdirected generosity, we offer them all sorts of opportunities and, at least for middle-class and affluent youths, the time and resources to take advantage of them. We ask little in return. We expect little, and the young people sense this, and relax. The genially superficial is tolerated, save in areas where the high school students themselves have some control, in inter-scholastic athletics, sometimes in their part-time work, almost always in their socializing. At least if and when they reflect about it, adolescents have cause to resent us old folks. We do not signal clear standards for many important areas of their lives, and we deny them the respect of high expectations. In a word, we are careless about them, and, not surprisingly, many are thus careless about themselves. “Me take on such a difficult and responsible task?” they query, “I’m just a kid!” All sorts of young Americans are capable of solid, imaginative scholarship, and they exhibit it for us when we give them both the opportunity and a clear measure of the standard expected. Presented with this opportunity, young folk respond. The Concord Review is such an opportunity, a place for fine scholarship to be exhibited, to be exposed to that most exquisite of scholarly tests, wide publication. The Concord Review is, for the History–inclined high school student, what the best of secondary school theatre and music performances, athletics, and (in some respects) science fairs are, for their aficionados. It is a testing ground, and one of elegant style, taste and standards. The Review does not undersell students. It respects them. And in such respect is the fuel for excellence.”

Since 1987, The Concord Review has published more than a thousand 6,000-word, 8,000-word, 11,000-word, 15,000-word, and longer history papers by secondary students from 46 states and 38 other countries, and, as we only take about 5% of the ones we get, evidently several more thousands of high school students have written serious history papers and submitted them. But I was recently asked, “How many high school students do you think could actually write papers like that?”—Suggesting that it must be a very small number indeed! As small perhaps as the number of high school students who could make that three-pointer in 1891?

Some examples: Colin Rhys Hill, of Atlanta, Georgia, decided to write a 15,000-word history research paper on the Soviet-Afghan War; Sarah Willeman, of Byfield, Massachusetts, decided she wanted to write a 21,000-word paper on the Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah in 1857; Nathaniel Bernstein, of San Francisco, chose to write an 11,000-word paper on the unintended consequences of Direct Legislation reforms in the early 1900s in California; and Jonathan Lu, of Hong Kong, wrote a 13,000-word paper on the Needham Question (why did Chinese technology stall after 1500?)...(send to for pdfs of these papers).

“Where there’s a Way, there’s a Will,” I sometimes think. If peach baskets exist, some day somewhere a high school student or two will try to shoot a ball through one. Obviously by now the number of such students who can make a three-point shot is very large. We even have nationally-televised high school basketball games in which they can demonstrate such an achievement. If an international journal for the academic history research papers of secondary students exists, perhaps some students will actually write and submit them?

Most people may tell a high school students that they are not capable of doing the reading and the writing for a long serious history research paper. Most of their teachers do not want to spend the time coaching for and reading them. But my advice to any prospective high school author is—pay no attention to the people who tell you that you are only capable of writing a five-paragraph essay—and:

Prepare yourself over weeks, months, and years of practice.
Make sure your feet are behind the three-point line.
Take the shot.

Monday, December 9, 2013



        There is an old story about a worker, at one of the South African diamond mines, who would leave work once a week or so pushing a wheelbarrow full of sand. The guard would stop him and search the sand thoroughly, looking for any smuggled diamonds. When he found none, he would wave the worker through. This happened month after month, and finally the guard said, “Look, I know you are smuggling something, and I know it isn’t diamonds. If you tell me what it is, I won’t say anything, but I really want to know.” The worker smiled, and said, “wheelbarrows.”

        I think of this story when teachers find excuses for not letting their students see the exemplary history essays written by their high school peers for The Concord Review. Often they feel they cannot give their students copies unless they can “teach” the contents. Or they already teach the topic of one of the essays they see in the issue. Or they don’t know anything about one of the topics. Or they know more about the topic than the HS author does. Or they don’t have time to teach one of the topics they see, or they don’t think students have time to read one or more of the essays, or they worry about plagiarism, or something else. There are many reasons to keep this unique journal away from secondary students.

        They are, to my mind, “searching the sand.” The most important reason to show their high school students the journal is to let them see the wheelbarrow itself, that is, to show them that there exists in the world a professional journal that takes the history research papers of high school students seriously enough to have published them [from 39 countries] on a quarterly basis for the last 26 years. Whether the students read all the essays, or one of them, or none of them, they will see that for some of their peers academic work is treated with respect. And that is a message worth letting through the guard post, whatever anyone may think about, or want to do something with, the diamonds inside.

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

...And of course there are a few teachers who are eager to show their students the exemplary work of their peers....may their tribe increase!!

The Concord Review—Varsity Academics®

Friday, November 29, 2013


                                The Extended Essay: 
      A Life-Changing Project at “Beyond English” in China

                    by David Scott Lewis, Qingdao, China

I'm delighted that Will Fitzhugh has given me this opportunity to write a guest post, to talk a bit about “Beyond English,” our after-school enrichment program for high school students in China, and about the extended essays written by my students.  Our program focuses primarily (but not exclusively) on philosophy, law and history, more specifically on ethics and moral philosophy, public international law and conflict studies, and classical antiquity and the American republic through the Civil War. 

Our students take courses which range in difficultly from “101” courses to a graduate-level course taught at the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, “Central Challenges of American National Security, Strategy, and the Press,” HKS211x (two of my high school students, Kun Pang in Singapore and Xinhe Zhang in Qingdao, were among the 500 competitively selected for this
Harvard course among 50,000 applicants).  The courses serve to expose high school students to subjects they've never encountered. 

My approach:  Hybrid learning combined with the Harkness Method, with a greater emphasis on blended learning as “Beyond English” expands beyond Qingdao, China into Singapore, Seoul, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Enter the extended essay.  It's usually after taking a course that my students choose their substantial writing topic (as it's called in law school).  But that's just the first step.  Imagine the difficultly in writing a 10,000-plus word essay (in your second language) on a topic in which you have absolutely no background, not even cultural background.  Not to belabor this point, but how much do you really think Chinese students know about democracy (as one example)?

We help our students with other activities as well.  I like to think of us as the best of Phillips Academy and Roxbury Latin “after school” enrichment programs, but with Chinese characteristics.

Two of my top students, Yueyi Li and Meicen Meng, chose their majors based upon the work they did for their extended essay.  This shouldn't be understated.  Yueyi Li wrote a 14,000 word essay on Rawlsian distributive justice.  Some of the comments she received from her National Writing Board [] evaluation:  “Well-researched!  A very good and thorough job, indeed!  It reminds one of the work of an advanced graduate student.”  “You have an exceedingly bright academic future ahead of you.”  Meicen Meng wrote a 23,000 word (“23,000” is not a typo) extended essay on the intellectual history of Just War Theory.  Some of the comments she received:  “Yours is a mature and demanding subject.  Your work is both convincing and authoritative, and your research is first class.”  “There are flashes of genuine distinction in all you do.  Congratulations.”  The personal impact on Yueyi Li is that she wants to study pre-law/justice and Meicen Meng wants to study philosophy; both want to go to law school for their graduate studies.  And another student, Wenbin Gao, who wrote a paper on Chinese liberalism, received some absolutely phenomenal comments:  “Your work is mature, persuasive and truly inspirational. It was a privilege to read and critique your paper.  Many, many congratulations.  Be sure to thank your parents for their support and for a wonderful gene pool.  As you think on that, please extend the most vocal kudos to your sponsoring teacher.”

It's important to consider that my students do not attend an international school or a school offering an IB Diploma; they attend a public high school, Number 2 Middle/High School (in Qingdao, China), a school where only the English class is taught in English!

We've had ten essays submitted to the National Writing Board. Frankly, not all were excellent or even good essays.  But every student improved their critical reading skills, honed their writing skills, both in a way simply not possible in SAT preparation courses. So even if their efforts didn't result in a “4” or “5” (equivalent to AP scoring), they still learned a lot in the process of writing their essays. This is an important point, because it's not just about the score, it's about a learning process.  And determination.  And perseverance.

Essay topics for evaluation in 2014:  History of democracy (Zheng Xu), the international human rights movement (Ling Yi), an analysis of the conflict between China and Japan in the East China Sea (using English-, Chinese-, and Japanese-language sources (Bowen Li)…and a biography of Shakespeare (Jiahao Bian).  Should be a fascinating year.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


The Concord Review offers young people a unique incentive to think and write carefully and well…The Concord Review inspires and honors historical literacy. It should be in every high school in the land.”

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Historian


-------- Original Message --------
Subject:     Feedback
Date:         Wed, 20 Sep 2006 12:40:57 +0800
From:         Bill Rives
To:             William Fitzhugh
CC:            Rick Bisset

Hi, Will:

I think you will enjoy getting this quick piece of feedback on our new set of journals, which have just arrived. Thanks.

Rick Bisset, a veteran teacher with lots of previous international experience, including Korea and Malaysia, sent this note to the U.S. History colleagues here. He also updated later to say his class was still going strong with The Review well into the class period, at which point he had to pull them away.

Best Regards,

[Bill Rives,
History Department Chair,
Singapore American School]


From:     Rick Bisset
Sent:     20 September, 2006 10:13 AM
To:         Bill Rives
Subject: The Concord Review

So, I passed out The Concord Review at the beginning of class. I didn’t say anything except “Take a look at this.”

Here it is 10 minutes later, as I type this, and everyone is reading it and not saying a word.  Amazing!  What a powerful tool.  Great idea, Bill.

Regards, Rick

Rick Bisset
Singapore American School
History Department


“The achievement of The Concord Review’s authors offers a different model of learning. Maybe it’s time for us to take it seriously.”

Albert Shanker, New York Times, June 3, 1990

Friday, November 1, 2013


The Report Card; St. Augustine, Florida


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
1 November 2013

When it comes to working together to support the survival and enjoyment of history for students in our schools, why are history teachers, as a group, as good as paralyzed?

Whatever the reason, in the national debates over nonfiction reading (history books, anyone?) and nonfiction writing for students in the schools, the voice of history teachers, at least in the wider conversation, has not been clearly heard.

Perhaps it could be because, as David Steiner, former Commissioner of Education in New York State, put it: “History is so politically toxic that no one wants to touch it.”

Have the bad feelings and fears raised over the ill-fated National History Standards which emerged from UCLA so long ago persisted and contributed to our paralysis in these national discussions?

Are we (I used to be one) too sensitive to the feelings of other members of the social studies universe? Are we too afraid that someone will say we have given insufficient space and emphasis to the sociology of the mound people of Ohio or the history and geography of the Hmong people or the psychology of the Apache and the Comanche? Or do we feel guilty, even though it is not completely our fault, that all of the Presidents of the United States have been, (so far), men?

I am concerned when the National Assessment of Educational Progress finds that 86% of our high school seniors scored Basic or Below on U.S. History, and I am appalled by stories of students, who, when asked to choose our Allies in World War II on a multiple-choice test, select Germany (both here and in the United Kingdom, I am told). After all, Germany is an ally now, they were probably an ally in World War II, right? So Presentism reaps its harvest of historical ignorance.

Of course there is always competition for time to give to subjects in schools. Various groups push their concerns all the time. Business people often argue that students should learn about the stock market at least, if not credit default swaps and the like. Other groups want other things taught. I understand that there is new energy behind the revival of home economics courses for our high school future homemakers.

But what my main efforts have been directed towards since 1987 is prevention of the need for remedial nonfiction reading and writing courses in college. My national research has found that most U.S. public high schools do not ask students to write a serious research paper, and I am convinced that, if a study were ever done, it would show that we send the vast majority of our high school graduates off without ever having assigned them a complete history book to read. Students not proficient in nonfiction reading and writing are at risk of not understanding what their professors are talking about, and are, in my view, more likely to drop out of college.

For all I know, book reports are as dead in the English departments as they are in History departments. In any case, most college professors express strong disappointment in the degree to which entering students are capable of reading the nonfiction books they are assigned and of writing the term papers that are assigned.

A study done by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that 90% of professors judge their students to be “not very well prepared” in reading, doing research, and writing.

I cannot fathom why we put off instruction in nonfiction books and term papers until college in so many cases. We start young people at a very early age in Pop Warner football and in Little League baseball, but when it comes to nonfiction reading and writing we seem content to wait until they are 18 or so.

For whatever reason, some students have not let our paralysis prevent them either from studying history or from writing serious history papers, and I have proof that they can do good work in history, if asked to do so. When I started The Concord Review in 1987, I hoped that students might send me 4,000-word research papers in history. By now, I have published, in 98 issues, 1,077 history research papers averaging 6,000 words, on a huge variety of topics, by high school students from 46 states and 38 other countries.

Some have been inspired by their history teachers, other by their history-buff parents, but a good number have been encouraged by seeing the exemplary work of their peers in print. 

Here are parts of two comments from authors—Kaitlin Marie Bergan: “When I first came across The Concord Review, I was extremely impressed by the quality of writing and the breadth of historical topics covered by the essays in it. While most of the writing I have completed for my high school history classes has been formulaic and limited to specified topics, The Concord Review motivated me to undertake independent research in the development of the American Economy. The chance to delve further into a historical topic was an incredible experience for me and the honor of being published is by far the greatest I have ever received. This coming autumn, I will be starting at Oxford University, where I will be concentrating in Modern History.” 

And Emma Curran Donnelly Hulse: “As I began to research the Ladies’ Land League, I looked to The Concord Review for guidance on how to approach my task. At first, I did check out every relevant book from the library, running up some impressive fines in the process, but I learned to skim bibliographies and academic databases to find more interesting texts. I read about women’s history, agrarian activism and Irish nationalism, considering the ideas of feminist and radical historians alongside contemporary accounts...Writing about the Ladies’ Land League, I finally understood and appreciated the beautiful complexity of history...In short, I would like to thank you not only for publishing my essay, but for motivating me to develop a deeper understanding of history. I hope that The Concord Review will continue to fascinate, challenge and inspire young historians for years to come.”

Lots of high school [and middle school] students are sitting out there, waiting to be inspired by their history teachers [and their peers] to read history books and to prepare their best history research papers, and lots of history teachers are out there, wishing there were a stronger and more optimistic set of arguments coming from a history presence in the national conversation about higher standards for nonfiction reading and writing in our schools.

“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Madison, Wisconsin

History Scholar

Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

College scholarships for specific abilities and achievements are not news. There are football scholarships and volleyball scholarships and music scholarships and cheerleading scholarships, and so on—there is a long list of sources of money to attract and reward high school students who have talent and accomplishments if those are not academic.

Consider an example: there was a high school student in Georgia, in an IB program, who spent a year and a half working on an independent study of the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s. This paper, a bit more than 15,000 words, with endnotes and bibliography, was published in the Fall 2008 issue of The Concord Review, the only journal in the world for the academic history research papers of secondary students, and it earned the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize. (He went to Christ Church College, Oxford.) If he were an outstanding baseball player, a number of college baseball coaches would have heard about him, and would have done what they could to persuade him to accept an athletic (baseball) scholarship to their colleges.

But suppose he were not a HS athlete, but only a HS history student of extraordinary academic promise at the high school level. Would college professors of history have known about and taken an interest in his work? No. Would there have been college history scholarships competing for him? No. Would his teacher, who worked with him on his independent study, have attracted attention from his teaching peers (professors) at the college and university level? No.

I hope I am wrong, but based on what I have found out so far, there are no college scholarships available specifically for outstanding secondary students of history. There is abundant moaning and gnashing of teeth by EduPundits and professors about the widespread ignorance of history among our young people, but when someone shows unusually strong knowledge of history at the Lower Education Level, no one pays any attention at the Higher Education Level.

In 26 years of working to publish 1,077 history research papers by secondary students of history from 46 states and 38 other countries in The Concord Review, I have not learned of a single instance of an author being offered a college scholarship based on their exemplary academic work in history.

When we lament that our adolescents seem more interested in sports than in academics, we might consider how differently we celebrate and reward those activities. High school coaches who are well known to and almost treated as peers by their college counterparts, receive no attention at all for their work as teachers, no matter how unusually productive that work may happen to be. Higher Education simply does not care about the academic work being done by teachers and students at the Lower Education level.

Behavioral psychology argues that by ignoring some behavior you will tend to get less of it, and by paying attention to and rewarding other behavior you are likely to find that there is more of it.

I know that students are being recruited for college scholarships in cheerleading, and I would dearly love to hear from anyone who can tell me of students being recruited for their specific academic work in a high school subject, like history, literature, physics, Chinese, chemistry and so on.

I realize there are scholarships for disadvantaged students, for students of high general intellectual ability, and the like, but where are the scholarships for specific HS academic achievement? After all, athletic and dance scholarships are not awarded on the basis of general tests of physical fitness, but because of achievement in the actual performance of particular athletic or artistic activities.

It is said that you get what you pay for, and it seems likely that you get more of what you value and reward in academics as well. If we continue to overlook and ignore the academic achievement of our secondary-level scholars of history and other subjects, that does not mean that some students will no longer work hard in their areas of academic interest. There may be fewer of them, and fewer teachers who see the point of putting in the extra coaching time with exceptionally diligent students, but if we continue down this road, at least folks in Higher Education ought to be aware that they are working just as hard to discourage good academic work at the secondary level as anyone, and they should stop complaining about the attitudes toward scholarship of the students in their classrooms, which, after all, are in part a result of their own neglect of and indifference to, exemplary academic work at the secondary (aka “pre-college”) level.

“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987], Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998], TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24, Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA
978-443-0022;;; Varsity Academics®

Thursday, September 19, 2013


Phillips Academy

180 Main Street, Andover, Massachusetts 01810-4161

                                                 January 19, 1998

Mr. William Fitzhugh
Editor & Publisher
The Concord Review
Concord, Massachusetts 01742

Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,

    Congratulations on your Kidger Award from the New England History Teachers Association. The Concord Review has made an extraordinary contribution to secondary school students and teachers and to the craft of historical writing. The Review not only recognizes the outstanding historical research and writing of 15-18-year-olds, but it is truly a monument to one man’s imagination and tenacity. You have brought great professional skill and judgment as the publisher and editor. The layout of the journal is as good as any professional journal.

    I use it as the lead-in to our spring term U.S. History research papers here at Phillips Academy. We begin the process on February 1 and the students hand in their papers in mid-May, with the best going to outside judges for prizes. First, the students read articles from The Concord Review to understand what they are capable of doing. Then we go through the multiple steps, with due dates along the way: select topics, acquire the preliminary bibliographies, pass in note cards, develop a thesis and an outline, hand in a “final bibliography,” then a rough draft, and, finally, the submission of the final paper.

    When Mike Gottesman found that his paper on the 1952 Republican Presidential primary contest between Senator Robert Taft and General Dwight Eisenhower was to be published in this winter’s Review, Mike’s world was complete. Our weekly newspaper, The Phillipian, did a front-page story on his accomplishment and recognition.

    Thank you for your dedication and unrelenting effort to keep The Concord Review going.

                            Sincerely yours,
                            Thomas T. Lyons
                            Instructor in History

“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®


Thursday, September 5, 2013

MAJOR PLAYERS; Houston, Texas
The Report Card


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
30 August 2013

Who are the Most Important Players in U.S. education debates, and in our schools? Well, let’s see—there are EduPundits, legislators, governors, consultants, professional developers, publishers, the Department of Education, foundations, journalists, state commissioners of education, superintendents, principals, teachers, and who else? Oh, students! you think education has something to do with them? No one else does. And if students do have a part to play in their own education and they are not doing it, and this has perhaps some sort of impact on their academic achievement, what can be done about it? They can’t be fired, except by charter schools, and neither can their parents. So let’s not think about them, or their work.

In addition, most students have been allowed to believe, and the EdWorld agrees with them, that education is something teachers are responsible for delivering to them, whether they do any actual academic work or not. As to the academic work they actually are currently doing, Indiana University has found that 42% of high school students now do less than one hour of written homework in a week.

Because student responsibility for academic work is not part of our ideas about education, students can feel free to, as the Kaiser Foundation reports they now do, spend at least 53 hours each week with electronic entertainment media. (That would be 53 times as many hours as lots of our high school students now spend on homework each week.)

Of course all the current Major Players have something to say and something to do about education, and about students
academic achievement, but as long as, for whatever complex of reasons, we continue to ignore student participation in and responsibility for their own educational achievement, we are colluding in some very large, very tragic, and very sad, joke.

Try to imagine stories and commentaries on Major League Baseball which completely ignored the activities of the players, and you can see what a monstrous mistake it is for so many influential people in the education debates to pay no attention to whether: A) we are asking our students to do any serious academic work, and B) they are actually doing any.

Banishing students from our discussions about the Major Players in education may satisfy some set of needs for our EduPundits and others, but it is a sad and quite clearly doomed misdirection of all efforts to understand ways to improve student academic achievement in this country.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013


[This course was cancelled by CTY in August 2013....]

The Center for Talented Youth at Johns Hopkins University plans to offer a three-week residential course in academic expository writing for high school students in the Summer of 2014. The instructor will be Will Fitzhugh, founder and editor of The Concord Review

Mr. Fitzhugh has undergraduate and graduate degrees from Harvard and has been reading history for more than thirty years. In addition, he has read thousands of history research papers by high school students while choosing the 1,077 he has published in 98 issues of his unique quarterly journal, The Concord Review. So far, more than thirty percent of authors published in the journal have gone to Harvard, Princeton, Stanford and Yale.

Papers written during the prospective course may be on any historical topic, including the history of science, medicine, technology, business, warfare, economics, engineering, politics, discovery, and any other topic of interest to the high school authors who take the course. Interested students should send inquiries to Eileen Hansen, Executive Director, Center for Talented Youth

A decision whether to offer this course will be made in September 2013, so be sure to express your interest next month.

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

Monday, August 19, 2013



Coach Fitzhugh? Hi, this is Coach O'Toole at Boston College. We have spoken before, but I understand this year you have a very good strong safety on your team. How many tackles did he make last year? That's impressive. And how many interceptions? Outstanding. Listen, I wonder if I could come over to school there one day soon and meet with you and him? Great. See you then.


Mr. Fitzhugh? Hi, this is Professor O'Toole from the history department at Boston College. We have spoken before, but I understand you have an outstanding student in history this year. He wrote a 15,000-word paper on the Soviet-Afghan War? That
sounds impressive. It was published in The Concord Review? And it received an Emerson Prize? Outstanding. Listen, I wonder if I could come over to school there one day soon and meet with you and him? Great, see you then.

“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Thursday, August 1, 2013


The Report Card

Fitzhugh: The Common Core Promotes Skills, Not Knowledge

Posted on 24 July 2013

Tags: curriculum reform, educational standards, failure of common core standard, The Concord Review, Will Fitzhugh

by Will Fitzhugh

(Editor—William Korach: The Common Core Standard (CCSS) has had increasing opposition in recent month across America, but Will Fitzhugh has the best reason to oppose it. He says it does not teach knowledge-just skills or learning how to learn. Will Fitzhugh publishes a quarterly of the best high school papers in America (and 38 other countries),. Mr. Fitzhugh is concerned that CCSS has “no standards about what students should know.”)

The Common Core is not a curriculum—that is plainly stated, again and again. That means that they do not tell teachers what books to teach, for example in history and literature classes. They say that a few United States founding documents would be nice to offer students and that someone should teach some other nonfiction.

The Founding Documents they suggest could be read by a good ‘B’ high school student in one afternoon, so presumably they would want more history than that, although they do not specify any (Common Core is not a curriculum, they keep saying).

Because they offer no curriculum in history and literature, teachers across the country will vary in the poems, plays, novels, nonfiction articles and the history books (if any) which they assign students to read and study. Common Core follows Kipling’s notion that “There are 97 ways to compose tribal lays, and every single one of them is right.”

This is very progressive, of course, but it makes for an insuperable problem for the National Testing Consortia which are preparing to examine students prepared to meet the Common Core Standards.

Because students will have read and even, perhaps, written about and/or discussed many different examples of history and literature, the Common Core Assessments can not ask them about what they have learned, because they will have learned (or not) many different things from the sources they have been offered.

As a result, the Common Core National Assessment Consortia can only test students for their critical thinking, deeper reading, and other analytic “skills” which do not require that them to show that they actually know anything about anything.

So, even though supporters of the Common Core often make the mistake of saying it raises standards for what students “know” and can do, it really says nothing about what they should know.

The application of the Common Core to American students is thus directed at enabling students to be ignoramuses who may be able to talk glibly about their instant critical analysis of selected test passages, but they will not have enough knowledge to do them a bit of good in college or at any workplace. And, if E.D. Hirsch is right (and he is), they won’t be able to understand what they read much either (because they don't know anything).


“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Office of Admissions and Financial Aid

September 15, 2010

Mr. Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA

Dear Will,

        We agree with your argument that high school students who have read a complete nonfiction book or two, and written a serious research paper or two, will be better prepared for college academic work than those who have not.

        The Concord Review, founded in 1987, remains the only journal in the world for the academic papers of secondary students, and we in the Admissions Office here are always glad to see reprints of papers which students have had published in the Review and which they send to us as part of their application materials. Over the years, more than 10% (117) of these authors have come to college at Harvard.

        Since 1998, when it started, we have been supporters of your National Writing Board, which is still unique in supplying independent three-page assessments of the research papers of secondary students. The NWB reports also provide a useful addition to the college application materials of high school students who are seeking admission to selective colleges.

        For all our undergraduates, even those in the sciences, such competence, both in reading nonfiction books and in the writing of serious research papers, is essential for academic success. Some of our high schools now place too little emphasis on this, but The Concord Review and the National Writing Board are doing a national service in encouraging our secondary students, and their teachers, to spend more time and effort on developing these abilities.

William R. Fitzsimmons
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid


Administrative Office: 86 Brattle Street • Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138


“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Saturday, July 20, 2013


Jonathan Reider, Ph.D.
Director of College Counseling
San Francisco University High School
June 2013

            “...In the humanities the pickings are quite thin. But we are encouraged by two programs: The Concord Review and the National Writing Board. The Concord Review [founded in 1987] has published 1,066 high school research papers in history [from 46 states and 38 other countries] in 97 issues, on a quarterly basis. The papers are 16-24 pages long [average 6,000 words, with endnotes and bibliography] and they demonstrate extensive research and writing skills. They are chosen rigorously, following high academic standards. Even submitting an essay, to say nothing of having one published, is evidence of serious scholarly achievement.
            The National Writing Board [founded in 1998] provides a unique independent assessment of serious student research papers, and submits its three-page reports to colleges at the request of the author. Thirty-nine colleges, both research universities and liberal arts colleges, have stated their willingness to accept these evaluations. This is an excellent tool for colleges to add to their array of evaluative techniques. While some colleges ask for a graded paper of the student’s work, few have the time or the expertise to evaluate these systematically as part of an application for admission. It is more efficient if these are evaluated by an independent and reliable source.

            Both of these services evaluate serious academic work undertaken as a part of the student’s high school curriculum. It is comparable to the kinds of tasks college faculty set for their own students. Thus there is greater “fit” between the material being evaluated and the future education of these students than exists for the other conventional measures. If we can encourage colleges and students to use these programs more widely, perhaps we can balance the frenzy of noneducational (or even anti-educational) activity by high school students with more substantial intellectual work in the humanities.” []


The following (39) colleges and universities now endorse this unique independent assessment service for academic writing: Amherst, Boston University, Bowdoin, Carnegie Mellon, Claremont McKenna, Colgate, Connecticut College, Cooper Union, Dartmouth, Duke, Eckerd, Emory, George Mason, Georgetown, Hamilton, Harvard, Haverford, Illinois Wesleyan, Lafayette, Lehigh, Michigan, Middlebury, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Pitzer, Princeton, Reed, Richmond, Sarah Lawrence, Shimer, Smith, Spelman, Stanford, Trinity (CT), Tufts, the University of Virginia, Washington and Lee, Williams, and Yale.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Daisy Christodoulou’s Seven Myths

Our educators now stand ready to commit the same mistakes with the Common Core State Standards. Distressed teachers are saying that they are being compelled to engage in the same superficial, content-indifferent activities, given new labels like “text complexity” and “reading strategies.” In short, educators are preparing to apply the same skills-based notions about reading that have failed for several decades.

The Core Knowledge Blog

A Game-Changing Education Book from England

by E. D. Hirsch, Jr.
July 2nd, 2013

This post originally appeared on the Huffington Post on June 27, 2013.

A British schoolteacher, Daisy Christodoulou, has just published a short, pungent e-book called Seven Myths about Education. It’s a must-read for anyone in a position to influence our low-performing public school system. The book’s focus is on British education, but it deserves to be nominated as a “best book of 2013
on American education, because there’s not a farthing’s worth of difference in how the British and American educational systems are being hindered by a slogan-monopoly of high-sounding ideas—brilliantly deconstructed in this book.

Ms. Christodoulou has unusual credentials. She’s an experienced classroom teacher. She currently directs a non-profit educational foundation in London, and she is a scholar of impressive powers who has mastered the relevant research literature in educational history and cognitive psychology. Her writing is clear and effective. Speaking as a teacher to teachers, she may be able to change their minds. As an expert scholar and writer, she also has a good chance of enlightening administrators, legislators, and concerned citizens.

Ms. Christodoulou believes that such enlightenment is the great practical need these days, because the chief barriers to effective school reform are not the usual accused: bad teacher unions, low teacher quality, burdensome government dictates. Many a charter school in the U.S. has been able to bypass those barriers without being able to produce better results than the regular public schools they were meant to replace. No wonder. Many of these failed charter schools were conceived under the very myths that Ms. Christodoulou exposes. It wasn’t the teacher unions after all! Ms. Christodoulou argues convincingly that what has chiefly held back school achievement and equity in the English-speaking world for the past half century is a set of seductive but mistaken ideas.

She’s right straight down the line. Take the issue of teacher quality. The author gives evidence from her own experience of the ways in which potentially effective teachers have been made ineffective because they are dutifully following the ideas instilled in them by their training institutes. These colleges of education have not only perpetuated wrong ideas about skills and knowledge, but in their scorn for “mere facts” have also deprived these potentially good teachers of the knowledge they need to be effective teachers of subject matter. Teachers who are only moderately talented teacher can be highly effective if they follow sound teaching principles and a sound curriculum within a school environment where knowledge builds cumulatively from year to year.

Here are Ms Christodoulou’s seven myths:

1 – Facts prevent understanding.
2 – Teacher-led instruction is passive.
3 – The 21st century fundamentally changes everything.
4 – You can always just look it up.
5 – We should teach transferable skills.
6 – Projects and activities are the best way to learn.
7 – Teaching knowledge is indoctrination.

Each chapter follows the following straightforward and highly effective pattern. The “myth” is set forth through full, direct quotations from recognized authorities. There’s no slanting of the evidence or the rhetoric. Then, the author describes concretely from direct experience how the idea has actually worked out in practice. And finally, she presents a clear account of the relevant research in cognitive psychology which overwhelmingly debunks the myth. Ms. Christodoulou writes: “For every myth I have identified, I have found concrete and robust examples of how this myth has influenced classroom practice across England. Only then do I go on to show why it is a myth and why it is so damaging.”

This straightforward organization turns out to be highly absorbing and engaging. Ms. Christodoulou is a strong writer, and for all her scientific punctilio, a passionate one. She is learned in educational history, showing how “21st-century” ideas that invoke Google and the internet are actually re-bottled versions of the late 19th-century ideas which came to dominate British and American schools by the mid-20th century. What educators purvey as brave such as “critical-thinking skills” and “you can always look it up” are actually shopworn and discredited by cognitive science. That’s the characteristic turn of her chapters, done especially effectively in her conclusion when she discusses the high-sounding education-school theme of hegemony:

I discussed the way that many educational theorists used the concept of hegemony to explain the way that certain ideas and practices become accepted by people within an institution. Hegemony is a useful concept. I would argue that the myths I have discussed here are hegemonic within the education system. It is hard to have a discussion about education without sooner or later hitting one of these myths. As theorists of hegemony realise, the most powerful thing about hegemonic ideas is that they seem to be natural common sense. They are just a normal part of everyday life. This makes them exceptionally difficult to challenge, because it does not seem as if there is anything there to challenge. However, as the theorists of hegemony also realised [UK], hegemonic ideas depend on certain unseen processes. One tactic is the suppression of all evidence that contradicts them. I trained as a teacher, taught for three years, attended numerous in-service training days, wrote several essays about education and followed educational policy closely without ever even encountering any of the evidence about knowledge I speak of here, let alone actually hearing anyone advocate it.…For three years I struggled to improve my pupils’ education without ever knowing that I could be using hugely more effective methods. I would spend entire lessons quietly observing my pupils chatting away in groups about complete misconceptions and I would think that the problem in the lesson was that I had been too prescriptive. We need to reform the main teacher training and inspection agencies so that they stop promoting completely discredited ideas and give more space to theories with much greater scientific backing.
The book has great relevance to our current moment, when a majority of states have signed up to follow new “Common Core Standards,” comparable in scope to the recent experiment named “No Child Left Behind,” which is widely deemed a failure. If we wish to avoid another one, we will need to heed this book’s message. The failure of NCLB wasn’t in the law’s key provisions that adequate yearly progress in math and reading should occur among all groups, including low-performing ones. The result has been some improvement in math, especially in the early grades, but stasis in most reading scores. In addition, the emphasis on reading tests has caused a neglect of history, civics, science, and the arts.

Ms. Christodoulou’s book indirectly explains these tragic, unintended consequences of NCLB, especially the poor results in reading. It was primarily the way that educators responded to the accountability provisions of NCLB that induced the failure. American educators, dutifully following the seven myths, regard reading as a skill that could be employed without relevant knowledge; in preparation for the tests, they spent many wasted school days on ad hoc content and instruction in “strategies.” If educators had been less captivated by anti-knowledge myths, they could have met the requirements of NCLB, and made adequate yearly progress for all groups. The failure was not in the law but in the myths.

Our educators now stand ready to commit the same mistakes with the Common Core State Standards. Distressed teachers are saying that they are being compelled to engage in the same superficial, content-indifferent activities, given new labels like “text complexity” and “reading strategies.” In short, educators are preparing to apply the same skills-based notions about reading that have failed for several decades.

Of course! They are boxed in by what Ms. Christodoulou calls a “hegemonic” thought system. If our hardworking teachers and principals had known what to do for NCLB— if they had been uninfected by the seven myths—they would have long ago done what is necessary to raise the competencies of all students, and there would not have been a need for NCLB. If the Common Core standards fail as NCLB did, it will not be because the standards themselves are defective. It will be because our schools are completely dominated by the seven myths analyzed by Daisy Christodoulou. This splendid, disinfecting book needs to be distributed gratis to every teacher, administrator, and college of education professor in the U.S. It’s available at Amazon for $9.99 or for free if you have Amazon Prime.


Tuesday, June 25, 2013


Education News – The Internet's Leading Source for News and Commentary on Education Since 1997 – Jimmy Kilpatrick, Editor-In-Chief

An Interview with Emma Scoble: Reflecting on The Concord Review

Posted by Michael Shaughnessy EducationViews Senior Columnist on June 24, 2013

Michael F. Shaughnessy -

1) Emma, first of all tell us about what you are currently, doing, studying, and the like.

I am graduating from high school this week and heading to New York University in the fall. Having gone through the grueling college admissions process and four years of high school, I am dedicating my summer to surfing, reading, and hanging out on the beaches of Santa Cruz…

2) Now, I understand that you were published a while ago in The Concord Review. What was your topic and when did this occur?

My paper on the Broderick-Terry Duel was published in the Spring 2013 Issue of The Concord Review. The Broderick-Terry Duel was a pistol duel in 1859 between U.S. Senator David Broderick and California Supreme Court Justice David Terry. The duel was the culmination of a decade of dramatic and divisive politics in California between the pro and anti-slavery democrats. Broderick’s legacy has been imprinted in history, for his death in the duel reversed the pro-slavery Democrats’ victory in the 1859 statewide elections and ensured that California would remain firmly in the Union.

3) What prompted you to write a major research paper on the topic of your choice?

I was inspired by Colonel Edward Baker’s eulogy for his friend, U.S. Senator David Broderick. One of the finest orators of his time, Baker wrote eloquently about how Broderick stood up to a pro-slavery president as well as the California and national legislatures, and repeatedly, won against all odds. He spoke of Broderick’s conviction and courage, his fight against the pro-slavery movement in California, and of how his unwillingness to cave to injustice ultimately cost him his life. Over one hundred years later, Baker’s words still had the power to move me to tears and compel me to research Broderick’s story and the context of his time.

4) Who helped you? Parents, teachers, principals?

My father is a constant source of information and support. My earliest childhood memories are playing with my doll while watching Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary with my father. As I have grown older, we continue to share a love of history.

5) I understand you have some concerns about the current emphasis on Science, Technology, Electronics and Math. Tell us about your concern?

As was recently stated in The Concord Review’s blog, “The Emerson Prizes lost their funding last year…Intel still has $680,000 in prizes for High School work…” I can attest to the contrast in reception of academic achievement in STEM fields versus the Humanities, even at the small, academically-focused, independent school (The College Preparatory School in Oakland, California) that I attend. This year, one of my classmates received an Intel Award and teachers continually publicly recognize and celebrate her achievement in school assemblies and newsletters, which is entirely appropriate because she did extraordinary work.

However, I told several of my teachers about my paper being published in The Concord Review, an internationally recognized academic journal, and while they congratulated me, neither my published paper, nor my Emerson Prize, was acknowledged in a public forum until the last day of school, as a brief afterthought.

I understand that STEM is currently receiving a lot of attention in the national news because it is closely tied to our economic expansion and workforce. I recall a statistic from the U.S. Department of Labor stated that 5% of the American workforce is employed in a STEM related field while 50% of our economic expansion relies on STEM related professions. Clearly, there is a great demand for talent in STEM fields and we are looking to the next generation of brilliant young minds to fill the gap. However, it is essential that students with an aptitude for the humanities be encouraged as well, for man does not live by science alone.

How bland would life be without literature, history, poetry, and music? How will society advance, if we do not understand who we are and where we have been? We need young people who are gifted in English, History, or Language for our economy, too. Our nation needs teachers, writers, law makers, orators, translators, researchers, etc. We need brilliant minds—period, and academic excellence and achievement should be celebrated and nurtured across all fields.

6) Some people talk about “life changing events.” Do you see getting your paper published as a life changing event?

Being published in The Concord Review was one of the happiest moments of my life. The research that I put into the paper will stay with me forever, for through the course of my writing, Senator Broderick became my personal hero. His character and the life that he led have inspired me to live my life with principle and integrity. Serendipitously, by having my paper published, I met another hero, Mr. Fitzhugh, the founder and editor of The Concord Review.

Although I am only acquainted with him through email correspondence, I greatly admire that he has dedicated his life to advocating for youths and youth education. I follow his blog and posts on The Concord Review’s Facebook page, and although his posts are usually serious, they can also be really funny and sassy.

7) What kind of writing are you doing now?

Poems, love letters, creepy Facebook statuses…In all seriousness, I am hoping to write for NYU’s student newspaper in the fall.

8) What have I neglected to ask?

How is learning to write a history research paper relevant and useful to high school students?

In my opinion, writing a history research paper encompasses all of the skills of the humanities discipline—reading, writing, critical thinking, researching, and understanding a subject within its historical context. These abilities teach and reinforce essential skills for any student’s academic and professional career. Being able to think critically about an event or issue within its context is vital to understanding and solving any kind of problem, and in the modern age of the internet, it is crucial that everyone know how to research and identify credible sources. Furthermore, knowing how to methodically organize and support one’s ideas is key to being able to communicate or argue a point and understanding someone else’s argument.

Outside of the classroom, these skills have enabled me to give back to my community. Currently, I am on the Board of the Oakland Fund for Children and Youth, which guides the allocation of $12-20 million towards programs that serve impoverished and at-risk children and their families. 

Although I am the youngest on the commission, my vote has equal power, so I take my responsibility seriously. I prepare for each meeting by reading and analyzing briefs, data, and long government documents in order to understand the issues at hand as well as the greater community context.

It is not easy reading, and I have learned that many local and national policy and funding issues are complex and interconnected; but, by treating each meeting’s agenda as a subject to be researched, I am able to contribute to the Board’s discussions at public hearings and make funding recommendations.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Un-Common Core of Learning; Houston, Texas; June 5, 2013

An Interview with Will Fitzhugh: “The UnCommon Core of Learning: Researching and Writing the Term Paper”

Michael F. Shaughnessy

Eastern New Mexico University, 
Portales, New Mexico

1) Will, you have been advocating for the high school term paper for years—why the persistence?

I have worked on The Concord Review for 26 years for several reasons. It pays almost nothing, but we have no children, the house is paid for and my wife has a teacher’s pension. Most of all, I am constantly inspired by the diligent work of high school students from 39 countries on their history research papers. I thought, when I started in 1987, that I would get papers of 4,000, words. But I have been receiving serious readable interesting history research papers of 8,000, 11,000, 13,000 words and more by secondary students, who are often doing independent studies to compete for a place in this unique international journal.

2) I remember with fondness, my term papers in both high school and college—and the feeling of accomplishment I received. Am I alone in this regard?

We did the only study done so far in the United States of the assignment of term paper in U.S. public high schools and about 85% of them never assign even the 4,000-word papers I had hoped for. Most American high school students just don’t do term papers. Teachers say they are too busy, and students are quite reluctant to attempt serious papers on their own, so they arrive in college quite unprepared for college term paper assignments. Many of our authors say that their history papers were the most important and most satisfying work they did in high school.

3) People write and talk about “curriculum issues
—are there any curriculums that you are aware of that focus on library research and writing?

As you know the hottest topic in American education now is “The Common Core Standards,” which are quite explicit in saying over and over that they are “not a curriculum.” They say that nonfiction reading is important, but they recommend no history books, and they say nonfiction writing is important, but they provide no examples, of the kind they might find, for example, in the last 97 issues of The Concord Review. To my mind, the CC initiative is “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing” as the man said. As you know, by a huge margin, the focus for writing in our schools is on personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay, even for high school students.

4) Let’s discuss some of the skills needed to write a good term paper—what would you say they are?

The most important skill or effort that leads to a good term paper is lots and lots of reading. Too often our literacy experts try to force students to write when they have read nothing and really have nothing to say. So the focus becomes the students’ personal life, which is often none of the teachers’ business, and there is little or no effort to have students read history books and learn about something (besides themselves) that would be worth trying hard to write about. Many of our authors learn enough about their topic that they reach a point where they feel that people ought to know about what they have learned—this is great motivation for a good term paper.

5) You have been publishing exemplary high school research papers from around the world for years—how did you get started doing this and why?

I had been teaching for enough years at the public high school in Concord, Massachusetts to earn a sabbatical (1986-1987). That gave me time to read What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know, Horace’s Compromise, Cultural Literacy and some other books and articles that helped me understand that a concern over students’ knowledge of history and their ability to write term papers was not limited to my classroom or even to my school, but was a national issue. I had usually had a few students in my classes who did more work than they had to, and it occurred to me that if I sent out a call for papers (as I did in August, 1987) to every high school in the United States and Canada and 1,500 schools overseas, I might get some first-rate high school history essays sent to me. I did, and I have now been able to publish 1,066 of them in 97 issues of the journal. [Samples at] No one wanted to fund it, so I started The Concord Review with all of an inheritance and the principal from my teacher’s retirement.

6) Has the Internet impacted a high school student’s ability to research? Or is it a different kind of research?

I read history books on my iPad and so can high school history students. I also use the Internet to check facts, and so can students. There is a huge variety of original historical material now available on the Web, as everyone knows, but I would still recommend to students who want to do a serious history research paper that they read a few books and as many articles as they can find on their topic. This will make their paper more worth reading and perhaps worth publishing.

7) It seems that getting a paper into your Concord Review almost always guarantees admission to a top notch college or university—am I off on this?

Thirty percent of our authors have been accepted at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, and Yale, but I have to remember that these serious authors doing exemplary papers for my journal are usually also outstanding in many other areas as well. A number of our authors have become doctors as well, but at least at one point in their lives they wrote a great history paper!

8) I was recently on the East Coast and was reading The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. I was astounded by the quality of writing. There are still good writers out there—but do we treasure, promote and encourage good writing?

Those papers can hire a teeny tiny percent of those who want to make a living by their writing, and they provide a great service to the country, but for the vast majority of our high school students, reading and writing are the most dumbed-down parts of their curriculum. Many never get a chance to find out if they could write a serious history paper, because no one ever asks them to try. And remember, we have nationally-televised high school basketball and football games, but no one knows who is published in The Concord Review and they don’t ask to know.

9) What have I neglected to ask?

My greatest complaint these days is that all our EduPundits, it seems, focus their attention on guidelines, standards, principals, teachers, and so on, and pay no attention to the academic work of students. Indiana University recently interviewed 143,000 U.S. high school students, and found that 42.5% do one hour or less a week on homework. But no one mentions that. Our education experts say that the most important variable in student academic achievement is teacher quality (and thus all the attention on selection, training, assessment and firing of teachers). I maintain that the most important variable in student academic achievement is student academic work, to which the experts pay no attention at all. But then, most of them have never been teachers, and so they usually do not know what they are talking about.
The Concord Review

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Gladwell on Grit

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers
New York: Little, Brown, 2008, pp. 247-249
“Rice Paddies and Math Tests”

Every four years, an international group of educators administers a comprehensive mathematics and science test to elementary and junior high students around the world. It’s the TIMSS...and the point of the TIMSS is to compare the educational achievement of one country with another’s.

When students sit down to take the TIMSS exam, they also have to fill out a questionnaire. It asks them all kinds of questions, such as what their parents’ level of education is, and what their views about math are, and what their friends are like. It’s not a trivial exercise. It’s about 120 questions long. In fact, it is so tedious and demanding that many students leave as many as ten or twenty questions blank.

Now, here’s the interesting part. As it turns out, the average number of items answered on that questionnaire varies from country to country. It is possible, in fact, to rank all the participating countries according to how many items their students answer on the questionnaire. Now, what do you think happens if you compare the questionnaire rankings with the math rankings on the TIMSS? They are exactly the same. In other words, countries whose students are willing to concentrate and sit still long enough to focus on answering every single question in an endless questionnaire are the same countries whose students do the best job of solving math problems.

The person who discovered this fact is an educational researcher at the University of Pennsylvania named Erling Boe, and he stumbled across it by accident. “It came out of the blue,” he says. Boe hasn’t even been able to publish his findings in a scientific journal, because, he says, it’s just a bit too weird. Remember, he’s not saying that the ability to finish the questionnaire and the ability to excel on the math test are related. He’s saying that they are the same: if you compare the two rankings, they are identical.

Think about this another way. Imagine that every year, there was a Math Olympics in some fabulous city in the world. And every country in the world sent its own team of one thousand eighth graders. Boe’s point is that we could predict precisely the order in which every country would finish in the Math Olympics without asking a single math question. All we would have to do is give them some task measuring how hard they were willing to work. In fact, we wouldn’t even have to give them a task. We should be able to predict which countries are best at math simply by looking at which national cultures place the highest emphasis on effort and hard work.

So, which places are at the top of both lists? The answer shouldn’t surprise you: Singapore, South Korea, China (Taiwan), Hong Kong, and Japan. [Mainland China doesn’t yet take part in the TIMSS study.] What those five have in common, of course, is that they are all cultures shaped by the tradition of wet-rice agriculture and meaningful work. They are the kind of places where, for hundreds of years, penniless peasants, slaving away in the rice paddies three thousand hours a year, said things to one another like “No one who can rise before dawn three hundred and sixty days a year fails to make his family rich.”

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Best HS Writing Samples

The Report Card Commentary–William Korach
The Concord Review Publishes the Best High School Writing in America
Posted on 14 May 2013

Tags: curriculum reform, educational standards, political correctness, The Concord Review, Will Fitzhugh

(Editor: My friend Will Fitzhugh, Publisher of The Concord Review, and a frequent contributor to The Report Card publishes what is arguably the best high school student writing in the country. The students some of whom attend public schools and others who attend elite private schools have gone on to Oxford, Harvard, Yale, The University of Chicago and other great universities. Colin Rhys-Hill said that the tutors at Christ Church College, Oxford were more interested in his paper than anything else he did in high school. Does your school encourage students to submit to The Concord Review? How good is good at your school? Great writing is a skill that commands recognition and respect. If your school in not teaching rigorous writing, why not? Does your school offer learning or excuses? Sorry, but excuses walk. This is still America, and if you want success in America, learn how to write with clarity and force. Businesses claim they need to spend $3 Billion per year teaching graduates how to read and write. So sorry, but that’s pathetic. The Concord Review demonstrates great writing by high school students of history. Here Will Fitzhugh provides some excerpts. If you want to see more, his website is at

Since The Concord Review was founded in 1987, we have published 1,066 exemplary history research papers by high school students from 46 states and 38 other countries. Thirty percent of our authors have gone on to Harvard, Princeton, Stanford or Yale. Endnote numbers omitted. Will Fitzhugh


Jessica Leight went to Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, then graduated summa cum laude from Yale. She was asked about her essay in The Concord Review during her interview for the Rhodes Scholarship, and after three years at Oxford on the Rhodes, she got a Ph.D. in Economics from MIT. Her paper was on Anne Hutchinson:

“….This bitter speech, made by a man who had seen his entire career threatened by the woman now standing before him, opened a trial marked by extraordinary vindictiveness on the part of the men presiding. Why? Because their regulatory power had been, up to this point, thwarted. Hutchinson had done nothing in public, nothing that could be clearly seen and defined, nothing that could be clearly punished. The principal accusation leveled against her was failure to show proper respect to the ministers, but again, she had made no public speeches or declarations, and the court would soon find that producing evidence of her insolence was very difficult.

The assembly did not immediately strike to the heart of the matter: Hutchinson’s disparagement of the ministers of the colony as under a covenant of works. Instead, the presiding ministers first accused her of disobeying the commandment to obey one’s father and one’s mother by not submitting to the “fathers of the commonwealth,”as Winthrop termed it. Next, Hutchinson’s meetings were condemned, despite her citation of a rule in Titus exhorting the elder women to teach the younger. In the debate of these points, Hutchinson’s scintillating wit showed itself to best advantage; eventually, Dudley jumped in to rescue Winthrop, who was undoubtedly getting the worst of the argument, and quite simply accused Hutchinson of fomenting all discontent in the colony by deprecating the ministers as under a covenant of works. It was stated that she had aired these unacceptable views at the conference held at Cotton’s house the previous December…

Hutchinson immediately bridled at this use of private remarks as evidence and argued that she had spoken in good faith, believing the ministers were genuinely interested in her opinion and her guidance…”


Colin Rhys Hill graduated from Atlanta International School with the IB Diploma. He then applied to Christ Church College, Oxford, and during his acceptance interview there, the tutors were more interested in his paper that was in The Concord Review than in any of his other activities. His 15,000-word paper was on the Soviet-Afghan War.

“….Approximately nine years later on February 5th, 1989, Boris Gromov (the commander of the 40th Army and the last Soviet soldier in Afghanistan) would cross the Friendship Bridge at Termez into Uzbekistan. One of his sons was waiting for him at the other end with a bouquet of flowers. In Islamabad, Pakistan, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Station Chief Milton Bearden sent a two-word cable to CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia: “WE WON.” Bearden’s celebration was echoed in the headquarters of intelligence agencies from Singapore to France. The Soviet Army, which had not lost a war since the Soviet-Polish war of 1919-1921, had been brought to its knees by decentralized groups of Afghani guerrillas who collectively called themselves ‘The Mujahideen’ (The Holy Warriors).

It had been a bloody decade. The official number of 40th Army troops killed in action (KIA) was 13,833; but revised casualty figures reveal that the actual number was “in the vicinity of 26,000 (KIA).” 49,985 Soviet troops were wounded in action (WIA). Conversely, more than 1.3 million Mujahideen and Afghani civilians were killed by the 40th Army and DRA forces. The war forced 5.5 million Afghani civilians, almost a third of the pre-war population of Afghanistan, to flee the country as refugees. An additional two million Afghan civilians became internally displaced persons (IDPs). The textbook Soviet intervention that had crushed the Hungarian Revolution of 1956 and Czechoslovakia’s “Prague Spring” of 1968 failed miserably in Afghanistan. Soon, the once mighty Soviet Union itself would disintegrate.” 


Daniel Winik went to Sidwell Friends School and then to Yale. This paper was on American Almanacs.

“…The almanac (from the Arabic word for “a timetable of the skies”) has a distinguished history in America, but it was not original to the continent. The genre began in 13th century England with the Book of Hours, a calendar of Christian holy days. Almanacs came to the New World in 1639, when William Pierce published his Almanack Calculated for New England. Pierce’s almanac was only the second imprint of the sole printing press in America, founded in 1638 by a group of Boston publishers.

Between 1639 and 1675, Harvard University tutors published America’s only almanacs from this press. These Philomath (Greek for “lover of mathematics”) almanacs included astronomical data, poetry, and assorted municipal information. Most contained sixteen pages—a cover, introduction, twelve calendar months with astronomical charts, and two miscellaneous pages that often included an astronomical essay. By the early 1700s, almanacs had spread from Boston to New York and Philadelphia. During the eighteenth century—what Robert K. Dodge calls “the time of glory for the American almanac”—volumes and printing runs expanded.

The popular appeal of almanacs also ballooned. Rob Sagendorph notes that Nathanial Ames’s Astronomical Diary and Almanack, first published in 1726, was the first almanac to become an household necessity alongside the Bible.” This trend of popularity continued in 1733 with Benjamin Franklin’s first publication of Poor Richard’s Almanack under the pseudonym of Richard Saunders…”


Rachel Davidson went to Newton North High School, then studied civil engineering at Princeton and got a Ph.D. in earthquake engineering at Stanford. She is now an associate professor of engineering. This is from her paper on the split in the Woman Suffrage movement in the middle of the nineteenth century.

“…As is usually the case in 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, pitting 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….”

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