Writing Instruction in our Schools is Terrible.

Several years ago, I stopped reading the reports I frequently receive on “the future of education research” from many fine universities. Most education research has little or no relationship to important developments in schools, and it never will.

by Jay Mathews

 

Thankfully, there are exceptions. The Education Trust, a nonprofit that advocates for students from low-income households, has been peeking recently at what is happening inside classrooms, an intrusion rarely done because it is expensive and tends to expose unattractive realities.

The organization collected 1,876 school assignments from six middle schools in two large urban districts in two states. The idea was to see how well English, humanities, social studies and science were being taught in the new era of the Common Core State Standards. The results are distressing and show that the instruction students are getting — particularly in writing — is deeply inadequate.


A new study has found that U.S. schools emphasize the mechanics of writing instead of teaching students to engage with — and enjoy — such assignments.


“Only four percent of all assignments reviewed pushed student thinking to higher levels,” one report said. “About 85 percent of assignments asked students to either recall information or apply basic skills and concepts as opposed to prompting for inferences or structural analysis, or doing author critiques. Many assignments show an attempt at rigor, but these are largely surface level.”

“Relevance and choice — powerful levers to engage early adolescents — are mostly missing in action,” it said. “Only two percent of assignments meet both indicators of engagement.”

 Here are even more depressing numbers: 18 percent of the assignments required no writing at all. Sixty percent demanded just some note-taking, short responses or a sentence or two. Fourteen percent required students to write a single paragraph — whoopee. Only 9 percent went beyond that.