Wednesday, August 22, 2018


Page Per Year Plan©

Will Fitzhugh, 11 May 2007 

Diane Ravitch recently pointed out that, “the campaign against homework goes on. Its success will guarantee a  steady decline in the very activities that matter most in education: independent reading; thoughtful writing; research projects.”

It is clearer and clearer that most high school students, when they do read a book, read fiction. The College Board’s Reading List of 101 Books for the College-Bound Student includes only two works of nonfiction: Night and The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass. Nothing by David McCullough, David Hackett Fischer, or any other great contemporary historian is suggested for the “College-Bound Student.”

The SAT, ACT, and NAEP writing assessments, and most state writing standards, require no prior knowledge and challenge students to write their opinions and personal stories in 25 minutes. Unless college history professors start assigning term papers by saying: “‘History repeats itself.’ See what you can write about that in 25 minutes and turn it in six weeks from now,” our high school graduates will continue to find that they have been sadly misled about the demands of academic writing they will face.

A study done for The Concord Review in 2002, of the assignment of high school history term papers, found that 81% of public high school history teachers never assign a 20-page paper, and 62% never assign a 12-page paper any more, even to high school seniors. The Boston Latin School, a famous exam school, no longer assigns the “traditional history term paper.”

One reason for this, I believe, is that teachers find that by the time their students are Juniors and Seniors in high school, they have done so little academic expository writing that they simply could not manage a serious history research paper, if they were asked to do one.

For several years, I have suggested, to those who doubt the ability of U.S. high school seniors to write academic history research papers, that schools should start on our Page Per Year Plan©, which would work as follows:

Each first grader would be required to write a one-page paper on a subject other than herself or himself, with at least one source.

A page would be added each year to the required academic writing, such that, for example, fifth graders would have to write a five-page paper (five sources), ninth graders would have to write a nine-page research paper, with nine sources, and so on, until each and every senior could be asked to prepare a 12-page academic research paper (twelve sources), with endnotes and bibliography, on some historical topic, which the student could choose each year.

This would gradually prepare students for future academic writing tasks, and each senior could graduate from high school knowing more about some important topic than anyone else in the class, and he/she might also have read at least one nonfiction (history) book before college. This could reduce the need for remedial instruction in writing (and perhaps in remedial reading as well) at the college level.

At each grade level, teachers would need more time to help students plan their papers and to evaluate and comment on them when the papers came in, but with our Page Per Year Plan©, all students would be likely to graduate from U.S. high schools with better academic expository writing skills and better reading skills.

In our public schools, the power over reading and writing belongs to the English Department, and many social studies and history teachers, perhaps especially those who are preparing students for AP exams, do not believe their students have the time to read a history book or write a history research paper.

While this is the rule, there are exceptions, and I have been glad to publish history papers written by AP history students in the last 20 years of The Concord Review. But all too often, those exemplary papers were written by students putting in the extra time and effort to do an independent study, of the sort that Diane Ravitch believes is now in steady decline in our schools.

Of course it is rewarding for me to receive letters, like one from Shounan Ho when she was at  Notre Dame Academy in Los Angeles, which included a comment that: “I wrote this paper independently, during my own time out of school. My motives for doing so were both academic and personal. Although history has always been my favorite subject, I had never written a paper with this extensive research before. After reading the high quality of essays in The Concord Review, I was very inspired to try to write one myself. I thought it was a significant opportunity to challenge myself and expand my academic horizons. Thus during the summer before my Senior year, I began doing the research for my own paper.” She is now a John Jay Scholar at Columbia University, and it seems likely she found that she had prepared herself well for college work.

But what about those students who depend on educators to set academic standards which will prepare them for the reading and writing tasks ahead? For those students, I recommend that teachers consider the Page Per Year Plan© to help their students get ready. Again, this plan would also make it somewhat more likely that our high school graduates would have been asked to read perhaps one complete history book before they leave for college or for work.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018




Ishwar Mukherjee
[Student at Scarsdale High School, Scarsdale, New York]

A high school student on evaluating a high school education:

A number of secondary students ultimately learn how to read, think, speak, and write—skills essential for higher education and all professions. But with the backdrop of college admissions, standardized tests, and extra-curriculars, students are usually not much concerned about their classes “preparing” them for college academics or for later life. They are either worried about maintaining their grades, genuinely curious about the material, or fairly indifferent. Listening to these students, who are, after all, the most important variable in schools, might help explain and remedy the widening achievement gap between K-12 and college curriculums. What do the students think? Ask them!

Is there a better method to gauge student opinion on school curriculum than surveys? The problem with surveys arises from a combination of the educator’s fear of information and the student’s fear of consequences. Many high schools, including Scarsdale, administer a mid-year course feedback evaluation to students, promising complete anonymity. Yet comments are scant, given the time limit and reluctance to “soul-search,” and usually offer the fairly obvious: less homework, less readings, more group-work, etc. Why not shift the focus to exit-interviews for recent graduates and alumni?

Students who have just graduated from high school, or who have just “moved-up” from elementary or middle school, no longer have “skin in the game”: they have fulfilled their requirements and received their diplomas. And they are the most likely to speak without self-censorship and to pinpoint specific but genuine (not in-the-moment) information, ideas, and concerns about their time spent in classes and schools. These interviews should center on academics: favorite assignments, least effective class-time usage, interest and engagement, ideas for improvement, etc. They should not be exhaustively long or time-consuming either: a serious fifteen-minute interview can be much more useful than a lighthearted hour-long interview. Colleges are offering interviews during the admissions process to learn about the applicants; high schools should be offering exit-interviews to learn about themselves. The purpose of retrieving student information is not to shame educators or criticize individual teachers but to start a conversation about what works and what doesn’t while making use of the opinions of the ones with the most information about academic work: students.

Survey results (e.g. homework received an “8” or a “Needs Improvement”) are useful in identifying underlying trends but they can leave educators struggling to pinpoint specific concerns. "Additional Comments" sections can help, but they too can be hastily completed or overlooked. While exit-surveys provide an opportunity for students to opine freely and anonymously, exit-interviews are an avenue for students unconcerned about anonymity to make a more meaningful impact. With a personal, face-to-face interview, students receive an otherwise frequently neglected feeling of agency. A “we want to hear from you!” can make a big difference in improving the quality of student feedback. Board of Education members, teachers, and school administrators can all benefit from such interviews with departing students, before they take all their information and insights away with them.

Exit-interviews are, of course, not brand new. Companies and organizations often conduct such interviews with departing or retiring employees in order to investigate workplace satisfaction and efficiency. Even in high schools, including in Scarsdale, senior student-athletes receive an opportunity to reflect on the season, either with a coach or athletic administrator, in an end-of-season interview. These are quite successful, providing a closer look at the programs’ cultivation of sportsmanship, wellbeing, and engagement. The NFL Foundation’s InsideOut Initiative supports exit-interviews with student athletes wherever it can. Why not apply exit-interviews to high school academics?

Initially, I believe providing elementary, middle, and high school graduates with a class-wide optional exit-survey and piloting exit-interviews with only a handpicked group of students (e.g. 20 – 40 with various academic interests, talents, etc.) would work best. Upon analysis of the results, these feedback programs can be expanded accordingly. For instance, Scarsdale surveys a combination of recent graduates and older alumni on a 5-year basis (in addition to videotaping a handful of exit-interviews and organizing events to connect recent graduates with high school students), but think about what could happen annually. There would be more excitement, more engagement, and more participation; in other words, more information. Scarsdale’s Class of 2019 has about 400 students: aspiring athletes, artists, historians, doctors, lawyers, and everything in between. Those unique, intellectually diverse students have been learning from the Scarsdale school system all their lives. It would be a shame not to learn from them. 


Saturday, August 11, 2018


“Whatever you choose to call it—personalized learning, flipped learning, student-centered learning, or some other variation of screen-based education—teaching as we know it is about to become teaching as we remember it.”
The National Pulse
Is Technology Pushing Teachers Toward Extinction?
August 6, 2018
by Lisa Hudson
Education policy makers are vocal in their lamentations about the current teacher shortage. Although state school leaders across the country espouse their state has it worse than every other state, the reality is that nationwide, fewer and fewer students are going into teaching. Even Teach for America—which has notoriously staffed classrooms with non-teacher, Ivy League grads who don’t really want to be teachers, either—has shown a decrease in applications. “The erosion is steady. There’s a steady downward line on a graph. And there’s no sign that it’s being turned around,” said Bill McDiarmid, past Dean of the University of North Carolina School of Education, in an NPR interview. But, why?
Speculation is rampant about why this downward trend in teacher prep programs, ranging from low teacher pay, to teacher evaluations tied to student performance on standardized tests, to budget cuts, workload, and administrative headaches. Add to that a fairly accurate perception that the profession suffers from a lack of respect, and it’s no wonder teaching students are turning to greener pastures or that young teachers want out. One other thing that doesn’t seem to have been discussed in any meaningful way is the marginalization of teachers, as more and more often they are being replaced by artificial intelligence.
Historically, the education field has been a hotbed of change, dating back to the implementation of the chalkboard in the late 1800s or pencils in the early 1900s. Overhead projectors, the ballpoint pen, photocopiers, and handheld calculators have all made significant impacts in the classroom. But nothing to this point has turned the classroom, and education as a whole, on its head like the current trend in education reform to replace teachers with tech. Whatever you choose to call it—personalized learning, flipped learning, student-centered learning, or some other variation of screen-based education—teaching as we know it is about to become teaching as we remember it.
To a large extent, software-driven learning tools either minimize the time a teacher needs to spend with a student or, in some cases, eliminate the need for a teacher altogether. While education tech peddlers insist this is a huge leap forward for education, the threat of being minimized or eliminated can’t be having a positive impact on how college students perceive teaching as a vocation—especially when it’s feasible your job may ultimately be replaced by a computer. Computer-led learning, by design, re-brands teachers into facilitators. That’s all fine and good, with one undeniable caveat: facilitating is not teaching, and most teachers don’t sign on to be facilitators.
Students become teachers for a lot of reasons, but surveys routinely show that making a difference in students’ lives, and being able to share content knowledge, consistently appear in the top five answers. The latest push toward a classroom dominated by technology and digital learning effectively eliminates the need for teachers to be content experts. Even in my daughter’s private school, it’s rare to find a teacher who writes his or her own lesson plans. Whatever a teacher needs, on whatever subject they may be teaching (the word “teaching” being used very loosely) is available online. Videos, worksheets, tests, etc., can all be found with the click of a mouse. There no longer seems to be a significant need for content knowledge or specialization in instruction. Just Google it.
Teachers are also becoming little more than curriculum facilitators, reducing the amount of time they actually work alongside young people creating important personal relationships. Those connections are only developed with face-to-face communication. Curriculum facilitation leaves little time to inspire students and more time to make sure the WiFi is connected and students are paying attention. Those two things sound an awful lot like the responsibilities of my high school babysitting jobs: overseeing the selection of movies and making sure no one filled the VCR with peanut butter. You don’t need a college degree to do that for a living. In fact, most people go to college to avoid having to do that for a living.
Yet that’s what education reformers would have happen to teachers. Not only are college students being dissuaded from becoming teachers, and teachers marginalized to the point of being little more than glorified childcare workers, electronically governed classrooms could entirely eliminate the need for teachers within the next two decades, if not sooner.
Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences at Newcastle University, was given the $1 million TED Prize in 2013, “…in recognition of his work and to help build a School in the Cloud, a creative online space where children from all over the world can gather to answer ‘big questions’, share knowledge and benefit from help and guidance from online educators.” Professor Mitra’s TED Talk was interesting, yet chilling. Mitra pronounced, “Schools as we know them now are obsolete.” The education system is not broken, as he said, “…it’s just that we don’t need it anymore.” He proposed a world where teachers are essentially non-existent, except for the nominal number of facilitators who would “lead” these virtual classrooms. As Mitra stated, “The teacher only raises the question, then stands back and admires the answer….The teacher sets the process in motion, then stands back in awe and watches as learning happens.” Based on Mitra’s prediction, the future of teaching will involve an awful lot of standing back and admiring in amazement without having to teach.
Remember those teachers who became teachers because they were inspired by a teacher? In the brave new world Professor Mitra envisions, you can forget about them. They won’t exist. Because you won’t find a teacher who became a teacher because he or she was inspired by a virtual instruction or the classroom facilitator. It’s just not going to happen. The teacher-student dynamic can never be reproduced with a machine.
Teacher wanna-bes with any forethought will recognize the increasing likelihood of extinction and jump from the sinking ship into private sector jobs. Policy makers with any forethought will stop scratching their heads in befuddlement and send out the lifeboats. Education fads come and go—good teachers should not.

[Lisa Hudson is a founding member of Arizonans Against Common Core and an advocate of classical Christian education and the protection of student privacy. She graduated from Michigan State University School of Law in 1996 and is an active member of the State Bar of Michigan.]

Wednesday, August 1, 2018



Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

16 March 2008

    At Harvard University, the Harvard Graduate School of Law is called Harvard Law School, the Graduate School of Medicine is called Harvard Medical School, but Harvard Education School is called the Harvard Graduate School of Education—surely that indicates something...

    In any case, Harvard Education School is kind enough to offer, on its website, an insight into the research interests of its faculty. Their centers for research include: “The Center on the Developing Child; Change Leadership Group; Chartering Practice Project; Civil Rights Project; Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education; Dynamic Development Laboratory; Everyday Antiracism Working Group; GoodWork Project; Harvard Family Research Project; Language Diversity & Literacy Development Research Group; National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL); NICHD Study of Early Child Care & Youth Development; Project IF; Project on the Next Generation of Teachers; Project Zero; Projects in Language Development; Project for Policy Innovation in Education; Public Education Leadership Project (PELP); and Understanding the Roots of Tolerance and Prejudice.”

    The mission of some may be less clear. The “GoodWork®” Project explains that: “The GoodWork® Project is a large scale effort to identify individuals and institutions that exemplify good work—work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningful to its practitioners—and to determine how best to increase the incidence of good work in our society.” There is no indication that they are interested in good academic homework. Project IF is about “Inventing the Future.” Project Zero is home to work on multiple intelligences, among other things. 

     If you dig down further into the research interests of individual faculty, also kindly provided on the site, you may have the same difficulty I do in finding anyone interested in the work of the schools in teaching math, science, history, literature and foreign languages. There may be exceptions, but the overall impression is that academic work, of the sort we are asking students to do in our schools, gets little attention. 

    There is concern for finding and retaining teachers, but not too much for seeing that they have the academic preparation to be successful in promoting the study of math, science, history, literature, and foreign languages among their students.

    It would not be too much of an exaggeration to suggest that the focus of Harvard Education School is not on academics, but rather on a variety of social change, school management, “dynamic development,” and race, gender and ethnicity issues.

    Education has many important and significant aspects, and surely Harvard Education School devotes its attention to some of them, but it seems equally clear that student academic work, and the preparation of teachers to help students in doing it, should be fairly prominent among the concerns of faculty there.

    As far as I can see, they are not. In addition, it has been observed, from time to time, that other institutions may follow what Harvard does in organizing their own approaches to education. If this is the case in Education Schools, then there may be widespread national neglect of academic work in many of them.

    It has been noted elsewhere that those who pursue degrees in Education have much lower Graduate Record Examination scores, in general, than those who pursue graduate degrees in medicine, law, engineering, the sciences and even the liberal arts. 

    Which gives rise to the question, for me, of whether lack of success in academic pursuits may incline those who seek degrees at Harvard Education School actually to have less interest in academic subjects than other graduate students have. I believe that those who are considering work with children in our schools, if they are academically weak, sometimes decide that if they do not know much about math, science, history, literature, foreign languages and the like, at least they “know about people.” By some quirk of logic, they may think that “being good with people” is a fine substitute for knowing and caring about academic work in our schools.

    Perhaps academic schoolwork has comes to seem mundane, banal—really beneath them—so they decide to give their attention to “higher” concerns like multiple intelligences, child care, everyday antiracism, inventing the future, and “dynamic development.” To some, it may appear that many of these topics might better be studied in a school of social work or in a graduate department of psychology, but if Harvard Education School feels that academics are not that important for teachers and students in the schools, they have to do research on something, I suppose, and to me it seems that what has occurred as a result might be called the psychologyization of an education school.

    Now, if our public school students were already doing splendidly in academic work, perhaps there would be a need to look beyond plain academics as a subject of study, but my impression is that this is not yet the case in the United States.

    I think it would be great if Harvard Education School, and others, would, until our students are more proficient academically, spend more time working on ways to teach academics and to encourage our students to do academic work in the schools. Then, when our students are doing a lot better in academics, the Ed Schools can go back to roaming around in social justice, everyday antiracism, child development, inventing the future, and all the other subjects to which they are now devoting themselves.

Will Fitzhugh has an A.B. from Harvard College
and an Ed.M. from Harvard Education School