I am glad the national debate on higher education has finally found its way to college completion. College readiness is, of course, a cousin of completion, so let’s talk—again—about the massive disconnect between state standards for high schoolers and what college professors expect. Speaking of cousins, I have a very smart and hard-working one who graduated from one of the top high schools in one of the top school systems in the country (by any quantifiable measure), with Advanced Placement courses to boot. She never was asked to write a research paper of more than six to eight pages.
Well, they were sort of research papers. “It wasn’t till I took my first history class in college when I realized what a research paper was,” she told me. She felt ill-prepared for the writing she faced.
Not to get all “Kids today!” on you (and it isn’t their fault), but I still remember, junior year in high school, hunting down books on the Bay of Pigs and abolition, writing out notes, sorting my notecards this way and that until I had come up with real-live, 15-page arguments. I felt like such a grown-up. And when I got to college, the papers may have been a bit longer and more intense, but at least I had worked those muscles before.
The editor of the Concord Review of high school history blogged last week on Washington Post’s Answer Sheet on the value of term papers. It is one small piece of a bigger conversation we really need to have. The first step, for reporters, might be showing your high school exit exams and standards to some local college professors, to see what they think.