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Writing and Speech

The Decline of Writing Skills

  • Too Many Students Flunk Writing: Panel calls for a 'writing revolution' by George A. Clowes, School Reform News, June 2003. "In response to growing concerns in the business, education, and policy-making communities about the low level of student writing skills, a blue-ribbon panel is recommending a writing agenda for the nation that includes doubling the time most K-12 students currently spend on writing, requiring all prospective teachers to be grounded in the theory and practice of writing as a condition of licensure, and making sure a comprehensive writing policy is part of all state standards. The April 2003 report, 'The Neglected 'R': The Need for a Writing Revolution,' (PDF) was produced by the National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges, a panel established by the College Board last September and made up largely of K-12 and college-level educators and administrators."

  • Panel Says Most American Students Must Improve Writing to Meet Demands of College Success and Career, April 25, 2003. "The amount of time and money devoted to student writing must be dramatically increased in school districts throughout the country, and state and local curriculum guidelines must require writing in every curriculum at all grade levels. ... These are among the key recommendations included in 'The Neglected 'R': The Need for a Writing Revolution' (PDF). The report was produced by the National Commission on Writing in America's Families, Schools, and Colleges, a blue-ribbon group made up of university leaders, public school superintendents, and teachers, and assisted by an advisory panel of writing experts. ... 'The Neglected 'R': The Need for a Writing Revolution,' makes these important points about the current state of writing:
    • most fourth-grade students spend less than three hours a week writing, which is approximately 15 percent of the time they spend watching television;
    • nearly 66 percent of high school seniors do not write a three-page paper as often as once a month for their English teachers;
    • 75 percent of seniors never receive a writing assignment in history or social studies ..."

  • Writing Skills Necessary for Employment, Says Big Business, September 14, 2004. "Corporations spend several billion dollars annually improving writing among employees, according to a business survey released here today by a blue-ribbon group ... The report, Writing: A Ticket to Work ... Or a Ticket Out, A Survey of Business Leaders (PDF) concludes that the ability to write opens doors to professional employment. ...
         "The survey found that advanced technology in the workplace plays a significant role. 'With the fast pace of today's electronic communications, one might think that the value of fundamental writing skills has diminished in the workplace,' said Joseph M. Tucci, president and CEO of EMC Corporation and chairman of the Business Roundtable's Education and the Workforce Task Force. 'Actually, the need to write clearly and quickly has never been more important than in today's highly competitive, technology-driven global economy.'
         "According to the report ...:
    • People who cannot write and communicate clearly will not be hired, and if already working, are unlikely to last long enough to be considered for promotion. ...
    • Two-thirds of salaried employees in large American companies have some writing responsibility. 'All employees must have writing ability.... Manufacturing documentation, operating procedures, reporting problems, lab safety, waste-disposal operations -- all have to be crystal clear,' said one human resource director.
    • 80% or more of the ... corporations with greatest employment growth potential, assess writing during hiring. ...
    • More than 40 percent of responding firms offer or require training for salaried employees with writing deficiencies. 'We're likely to send out 200-300 people annually for skills upgrade courses like 'business writing' or 'technical writing,'' said one respondent.
         "Based on survey responses, the Commission estimates that remedying deficiencies in writing costs American corporations as much as $3.1 billion annually." ... In its conclusions, the report says, "both the teaching and practice of writing are increasingly shortchanged throughout the school and college years."

  • "Reading is the step that is left out ...
    The result is that students in fact do not have much to say"
    Process vs. Content by Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review, June 20, 2006. Highly recommended! Excerpts: "When teaching our students to write ... we often so load up students with formulae and guidelines that the importance of writing when the author has something to say gets lost in the maze of processes. ... academic writing is especially difficult if the student hasn't read anything ... So writing consultants and writing teachers feel they must come up with guidelines, parameters, checklists, and the like, as props to substitute for students' absent motivation to describe or express in writing something they have learned. Samuel Johnson once said, 'an author will turn over half a library to produce one book,' the point being, as I understand it, that good writing must be based on extensive reading. But reading is just the step that is left out of the 'Writing Process' in too many instances. The result is that students in fact do not have much to say ... Writing is always much harder when the student has nothing to communicate, and the proliferating paraphernalia of structural aids from writing consultants and teachers often simply encumber students and alienate them from the essential benefits of writing."

  • About Writing and Writing Skills: Interview with Nan Miller, by Michael F. Shaughnessy, Education News, June 29, 2006. Some excerpted points from this extremely candid and intriguing interview:
    • "My observation during the last decade I taught [college] freshmen was that enrollees in English 101 were becoming less and less able to read complex material or to write about it -- because they had not been held to high standards of literacy in our secondary schools. I suspect that a July 31, 2005 New York Times article pinpointed what our public schools were emphasizing instead when it suggested that 'building a caring learning community' -- not preparing students for college-level work -- has become the primary mission of public education. Many educators now operate on the premise that self-esteem precedes academic success, not the other way around ..."
    • "The fact that remedial college writing courses even exist makes two statements: one, many high school 'college prep' tracks are woefully deficient, and, two, college admission standards are sometimes lowered to accommodate students who wouldn't qualify otherwise, and who couldn't make it in college without remediation. The problem is not so much that these courses exist (though they do strain departmental budgets). The problem is that these courses are necessary primarily because our public school system is not doing its job."
    • "I'll tell you why students do not learn correct usage in English 101. Two decades ago, the National Council of Teachers of English made public the position on usage that schools and colleges have followed ever since. In a 1985 resolution, the NCTE declared: 'The use of isolated grammar and usage exercises not supported by theory and research is a deterrent to the improvement of students' speaking and writing.' It is no coincidence that the demise of grammar instruction coincided exactly with an increasing diversity among college enrollees, many of whom did not grow up speaking or writing standard English. To avoid making those students feel uncomfortable or inadequate, the new 'experts' on writing decided to soft-pedal grammar and 'permit students to set goals for their own improvement.' As a result, enrollees in upper-level classes have what one university professor called 'startling' problems achieving correctness in their own writing."
    • "Reform will come only when parents and taxpayers become aware that students are being shortchanged in their writing classes, then demand a better return on their investment in their sons and daughters' education."

  • Language Skills are in Need of Emergency Aid by Roger S. Peterson, Sacramento Bee, November 26, 2004. "Have you recently talked to a college professor about incoming freshmen? Profs struggle to earn doctorates and gain university appointments. But you would be surprised how many are scratching the dates to retirement. The culprit: California undergrads' incompetent language skills. ... We're in denial about the laxity of American English. Wordiness and confusing grammar are crippling business communication. Managers disregard the problem, and then wonder why they must re-explain themselves to employees and customers. Police exams now have a language and writing component. Chiefs are tired of losing cases when defense attorneys spotlight ambiguous police reports. Language laxity infects students. They cannot write a literate, correctly punctuated sentence and cannot think logically. Universities require a course in critical thinking, but for kids who think, like, in spurts and speak, like, in mumbles, the course is an enigma."

  • When Academic Lingo Trumped Correct English by David McGrath, a writer and an instructor at College of DuPage, Chicago Tribune, November 13, 2002. Excerpt: "When I ... [accepted] a full-time tenured position ... my only real surprise was that some of my new colleagues had assumed different roles as 'professors.' They claimed that their job was to engage students in critical thinking. To widen their students' focus to a world view and make them part of the 'community of discourse.' Or to emphasize process, not product, and to promote deep thinking. These functions were validated in the academic journals that gleamed with words like 'literacy' and 'diversity' and 'hermeneutics.' The ideas looked impressive, and I went back to work with a lofty air of excitement and anticipation. Until their students came to me. ...
    [Ahmed's] first essay in English 102 consisted of 400 words uninterrupted by periods. Uninterrupted by paragraph indents. By transitions. It was entirely devoid of logical or linear thought processes. ... [Malcolm] scrawled a crude, idea-free ode to his love, or, perhaps, to his bloodlust--it was never quite clear, as both phonetic and syntactical connections were blurred or non-existent. ...
    There is nothing wrong with diversity, deep thinking, or even with deconstruction of the traditional study of literature. But the English professors of Ahmad, Libby, and the others used the high falutin' notions and lexicon of academia in the service of their own intellectual egotism and professional sloth.

  • Writing in Schools Is Found Both Dismal and Neglected by Tamar Lewin, New York Times, April 26, 2003: "Seventy-five percent of high school seniors never get a writing assignment from their history or social studies teachers. And in most high schools, the extended research paper, once a senior-year rite of passage, has been abandoned ... Those are among the findings of a report issued yesterday ... The commission's report asserts that writing is among the most important skills students can learn, that it is the mechanism through which they learn to connect the dots in their knowledge -- and that it is now woefully ignored in most American schools. 'Writing, always time-consuming for student and teacher, is today hard-pressed in the American classroom,' the report said. 'Of the three R's, writing is clearly the most neglected.'"

  • "Part of the reason writing is so wretched
    is that reading is nearly nonexistent."
    A letter titled Students' Writing Skills in the Los Angeles Times (May 24, 2003) is from a teacher who blames the writing crisis on the lack of reading and writing in normal subject content: "Part of the reason writing is so wretched is that reading is nearly nonexistent. Outside of a few core novels, most students do little to no reading in high school, certainly not the texts in their content-area classes. I know because I have asked them and surveyed them. Most classes are entirely oral experiences for students. That is, teaching is talking and learning is listening." This teacher says the effect is profound: "Years ago, I could read long papers, making one to two marginal notations on each page. Now, virtually every sentence is flawed." She also blames textbooks for much of the problem: "The textbooks themselves are part of the problem. They are filled with color and graphical content, icons and discontinuous text boxes. They look like no other book in the world."

  • Teacher and education reformer Donna Garner makes available for free the unit she wrote on the elements of writing a term or research paper. See "The Lost Art of Research-Paper Writing" by Donna Garner, May 20, 2003. (Links to the details of the unit are at the end of that article.)

  • Teechurs say corect spelling iz no big deel; In English classes, critical thinking wows educators by Steve Rubenstein, San Francisco Chronicle, November 22, 2003

Term Papers

  • Term papers becoming a relic: Fewer assigned in high schools, Los Angeles Times, May 19, 2003 (also Chicago Tribune, May 28, 2003). "High school junior Dominique Houston is a straight-A student enrolled in honors and Advanced Placement classes at Northview High School in Covina. She is a candidate for class valedictorian and hopes to double-major in marine biology and political science in college ... But the 17-year-old said she has written only one research paper during her high school career. It was three pages long, examining the habits of beluga whales. ... [Some] teachers believe that term papers are meaningless exercises, because the Internet has made plagiarism more common and difficult to spot. And many say 10- to 15-page research papers are pointless, because many students' basic writing skills are weak and are more likely to improve with shorter and more frequent assignments. ... The result [lack of work] in high schools shows in the awful quality of many college term papers, said J. Martin Rochester, author of a book on failing education systems and a professor of political science at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. 'I read every paper line by line,' he said of his students' research projects. 'It's one of the most painful ordeals you can ever go through. Students today cannot write a complete sentence.'"

  • The State of the Term Paper by Will Fitzhugh, Education Week, January 16, 2002. "It seems likely that the history research paper at the high school level is now an endangered species. A focus on creative writing, fear of plagiarism, fascination with PowerPoint presentations, and lack of time to meet with students to plan papers (and to read them carefully when they are turned in) are factors in its decline. They have been augmented by a notable absence of concern for term papers in virtually all the work on state standards. And the combination has produced a situation in which far too many high school students never get the chance to do the reading or the writing that a serious history paper requires. As a result, students enter college with no experience in writing papers, to the continual frustration of their professors. And the employers who hire them after college -- the Ford Motor Co., for example -- have had to institute writing classes to ensure that they can produce readable reports, memos, and the like."

  • Edupundit Myopia by Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review. "[Education writers] have chosen very complex subject matter for their investigations and reports. They study and write about dropouts, vouchers, textbooks, teacher selection and training, school governance, budgets, curricula in all subjects, union contracts, school management issues, and many many more. Meanwhile, practically all of them fail to give any attention to the basic purpose of schools, which is to have students do academic work. Almost none of them seems inclined to look past the teacher to see if the students are, for instance, reading any nonfiction books or writing any term papers. Of course all of the things they do pay attention to are vitally important, but without student academic work they mean very little."

  • Luxury or Necessity? Term Papers in U.S. High Schools by Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review, March 8, 2004. "A study done in 2002 for The Concord Review found that while 95 percent of high school teachers said term papers were important or very important, 62 percent never assign a 12-page paper ... While it is hard to draw a straight line of accountability, the Business Roundtable recently polled its member companies and found they estimated they were spending more than $3 billion each year on remedial writing for their employees, salaried as well as hourly. In addition, from 30 to 50 percent of college freshman need remedial writing courses before they are ready to do the regular academic work required."

Poor Grammar and Vocabulary

    Also see our page on grammar

  • PRICELESS! What happens when a new graduate sits down to write a letter seeking employment? Bob Killian of Killian Advertising (no relation to the editor here) collects some of the worst he's received, at Cover Letters From Hell.

  • An article (Baltimore Sun, Aug. 12, 2001) on a new dictionary claims that the product is "appropriately directed at the deteriorating writing skills of college students." It asks, "How bad is it? Ask any college professor who has to slog through student essays. ... Examples submitted to the dictionary editors will ring bells from the local community college to Harvard University:
    'Reading Wuthering Heights, Heathcliff never fails to make an impression.'
    'The villain use to be seen lurking on foggy streets late at night.'
    'In his plight to find the treasure, he perished on the dessert island.'
    'There's players all over the field.
    'Shakespeare's plays had alot of strong women.'
    'It's a doggie-dog world out there.'
    'Our society has a dog-eat-dog pecking order.'
    "These are just several examples. Students don't know the difference between 'they're,' 'their' and 'there,' the professors said. They routinely confuse 'its' and 'it's.' They don't know the difference between 'blatant' and 'flagrant,' 'pretext' and 'pretense.' They think that 'although' means 'however,' as in 'Although, everyone did know the murderer.'"

Creative Writing

  • Leslie Epstein, director of the Graduate Creative Writing Program at Boston University wrote (December 4, 2000) on the overemphasis on creativity over substance. Excerpts: "I have been teaching creative writing for over two decades ... Over that time I've watched as the crisis in the ability to write-to think, to plan, to organize, to punctuate, to feel the rhythms of language, to engage one's imagination, even to see and hear on the page-deepened to the point of what I fear is no return. ... There is, in my view, far too much emphasis on subjective states, on memories, on feelings, even on thoughts, in the writing of fiction."

  • Romantic Fiction: What Passes Today for Student Academic Writing by Will Fitzhugh, Education Week, September 15, 2004. "[A]s editor of The Concord Review, I have accumulated more examples of the kind of creative/personal writing students are led to believe is worth publishing in a journal. The following entry by a 9th grader, entitled 'My Reflection,' was received in July:
    I stare at my reflection,
    Yet I don't see me.
    First glance,
    I thought it was you.
    Second glance ...
    Wait ... that's ... me?
    That's me and,
    My sky blue eyes,
    My nose,
    My blond hair.
    I stare at my reflection,
    Yet I don't see me.
    At first it was you.
    Then it appeared
    To be me.
    "Some people I sent this submission to thought it was a joke, but they don't realize how much writing in the schools has become a dumbed-down, self-centered, and not even very creative enterprise."

All About Me

  • Creative Nonfiction by Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review, April 5, 2008 "There is a new genre of teenage writing in town: Creative Nonfiction. It allows high school students (mostly girls) to complete writing assignments and participate in 'essay contests' by writing about their hopes, experiences, doubts, relationships, worries, victimization (if any), and parents, as well as more existential questions such as 'How do I look?' and 'What should I wear to school?' ...
         "College admissions officers also ask applicants to write about themselves, rather than, for example, asking to see their best extended research paper from high school. The outcome is that many of our public high school graduates encounter college term paper assignments which ask them to learn and write about something other than themselves, and thanks to the kudzu of Creative Nonfiction, this they are unprepared to do.
         "How teen autobiography came to be a substitute for nonfiction reading and academic writing is a long story, but clearly many now feel that a pumped-up diary entry is worthy of prizes in high school 'essay contests,' and required in college application materials. ...
         "Of course we can do better. ... Why can't we free [students] from the anti-knowledge, anti-intellectual and anti-academic Creative Nonfiction writing assignments which so many students are now being given on which to waste their precious time?"

    "Magic Me" on our page concerning social studies.

Assessment of Writing Skills

  • "Illinois ... encourage[s] the learning of vacuous thinking, thinking without substance ...
    Kids are passing the tests by writing drivel."
    Standardized Writing Assessments May Be Harmful To Children's Learning, University of Chicago Chronicle, July 11, 2002, Volume 21, No. 18. Excerpt: "George Hillocks Jr., Professor in English Language & Literature and Director of the Master of Arts Program in Teaching [found that] in ... Illinois ... the tests guide the curriculum and 'encourage the learning of vacuous thinking, thinking without substance.' ... 'As a result of the test conditions, writing teachers usually rely on the formulaic five-paragraph structure. In Illinois, students have 40 minutes to complete the task. ... Students then churn out essays with a 'first, next, last' structure, but they are not taught how to discern real evidence or support for their points. ... Evaluators reward students for following the structure, but not for their choice of evidence. The result ... 'kids are passing the tests by writing drivel.'
         "Hillocks also researched the process of scoring the Illinois test. A company in North Carolina, which supervised the process, trained its judges to grade each writing test on a 32-point scale within 60 seconds. Under this type of time-pressure, judges simply looked for the formula. 'Any teacher who has ever taught writing knows that 60 seconds is not enough time to grade a paper.'"

  • Romantic Fiction: What Passes Today for Student Academic Writing by Will Fitzhugh, Education Week, September 15, 2004. "The College Board's National Commission on Writing in the Schools last year called for more attention to writing, and, in its report, provided an example of the sort of student writing that commission members thought admirable. They said, for example, that the following passage from Michael, a high school student, showed 'how powerfully children can express their emotions':
    'The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us.'
    "I suppose this is the kind of writing that, expanded for 25 minutes, would earn an 800 on the new SAT?"

  • "Illinois ... encourage[s] the learning of vacuous thinking, thinking without substance ...
    Kids are passing the tests by writing drivel."
    Standardized Writing Assessments May Be Harmful To Children's Learning, University of Chicago Chronicle, July 11, 2002, Volume 21, No. 18. Excerpt: "George Hillocks Jr., Professor in English Language & Literature and Director of the Master of Arts Program in Teaching [found that] in ... Illinois ... the tests guide the curriculum and 'encourage the learning of vacuous thinking, thinking without substance.' ... 'As a result of the test conditions, writing teachers usually rely on the formulaic five-paragraph structure. In Illinois, students have 40 minutes to complete the task. ... Students then churn out essays with a 'first, next, last' structure, but they are not taught how to discern real evidence or support for their points. ... Evaluators reward students for following the structure, but not for their choice of evidence. The result ... 'kids are passing the tests by writing drivel.'
         "Hillocks also researched the process of scoring the Illinois test. A company in North Carolina, which supervised the process, trained its judges to grade each writing test on a 32-point scale within 60 seconds. Under this type of time-pressure, judges simply looked for the formula. 'Any teacher who has ever taught writing knows that 60 seconds is not enough time to grade a paper.'"

  • SAT Essay Test Rewards Length and Ignores Errors by Michael Winerip, New York Times, May 4, 2005. "Dr. [Les] Perelman is one of the directors of undergraduate writing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He did doctoral work on testing and develops writing assessments for entering M.I.T. freshmen. He fears that the new 25-minute SAT essay test that started in March - and will be given for the second time on Saturday -- is actually teaching high school students terrible writing habits. 'It appeared to me that regardless of what a student wrote, the longer the essay, the higher the score,' Dr. Perelman said. ... 'I have never found a quantifiable predictor in 25 years of grading that was anywhere near as strong as this one,' he said. 'If you just graded them based on length without ever reading them, you'd be right over 90 percent of the time.' The shortest essays, typically 100 words, got the lowest grade of one. The longest, about 400 words, got the top grade of six. In between, there was virtually a direct match between length and grade.
    He was also struck by all the factual errors in even the top essays. An essay on the Civil War, given a perfect six, describes the nation being changed forever by the 'firing of two shots at Fort Sumter in late 1862.' (Actually, it was in early 1861, and, according to 'Battle Cry of Freedom' by James M. McPherson, it was '33 hours of bombardment by 4,000 shot and shells.')
    Dr. Perelman contacted the College Board and was surprised to learn that on the new SAT essay, students are not penalized for incorrect facts. The official guide for scorers explains: 'Writers may make errors in facts or information that do not affect the quality of their essays. For example, a writer may state 'The American Revolution began in 1842' or 'Anna Karenina,' a play by the French author Joseph Conrad, was a very upbeat literary work.' (Actually, that's 1775; a novel by the Russian Leo Tolstoy; and poor Anna hurls herself under a train.) No matter. 'You are scoring the writing, and not the correctness of facts.'"


  • How Spelling Supports Reading, and Why it Is More Regular and Predictable Than You May Think (PDF) By Louisa C. Moats, American Educator, American Federation of Teachers (AFT), Winter 2005/06.

  • Why Johnny Can't Spell: Researcher Louisa Moats says the answer lies in getting back to basics, People Magazine, August 27, 2001. "Moats, 56, the author of three books on reading and director of an ongoing study of reading education by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, thinks the parental concern is on target. "Spelling problems are so common it's frightening," she says. Indeed, Moats sees a significant decline in children's ability to spell--and she blames the way reading is taught in most schools. Two decades ago the prevailing method was phonics, which requires students to memorize the combinations of letters that form the sounds of words. But many kids found that process tedious. In an attempt to turn them into enthusiastic readers, schools gradually adopted the "whole language" approach, which emphasizes comprehension over technical mastery. In the process, Moats contends, essential spelling skills have been sorely neglected."

  • A comment posted by Mary Damer, July 2009: "Research shows that spelling should start out with phonetic spelling, move to rule and pattern based spelling and by 4th grade focus on morphographs (prefixes, suffixes, root words) and language aspects that make spelling predictable (Greek and Latin). I used to supervise student teachers in a middle school that used a great spelling program "Corrective Spelling" and the LD kids could outspell the other kids in that school."


  • The Debate Debate by Peter Schiff, April 30, 2014. "This once courtly rhetorical sparring ground for class presidents and lawyers-in-training is supposed to be forum for ideas, proofs, and conclusions. ... But more recently, debate has succumbed to the worst aspects of moral relativism, academic sloth and politically correct dogma that have transformed it into an unintelligible mix of performance art and petty politics. ...
    "The 2014 National Championship of the Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA) ... as well as dozens of the CEDA sanctioned debates and championships, are easily found on YouTube. I challenge anyone to watch any of those 'debates' and describe the ideas and arguments that participants are supposedly addressing.
    "At this year's championship, the actual debate question concerned the wisdom of restricting the war powers of the U.S. president. But instead of addressing one of the most important U.S. foreign policy questions of the past half century, the two teams focused exclusively on how the U.S. was supposedly 'at war' with poor black people. Although these arguments were clearly off-subject, it seems that the topic did not matter. The 'debate' came off as a mix of rap, personal invective, speed talking, soapbox harangue, and explicative filled rants. When one contestant's time expired, he 'brilliantly' yelled 'F-ck the time!'"

    2014 national championship winning team

  • Intellectual Combat: My Journey in Competitive Forensics by Shawn Briscoe, Education Next, Winter 2009. "If our students are to understand the pressing issues of the day, they must be exposed to myriad viewpoints and able to synthesize information from multiple sources. Forensics challenges students through events in both speech and debate. ... In competitive debates, students do not choose which side they will defend. To prepare, student competitors must look at the issue through a nonpartisan lens or from multiple perspectives, thereby gaining a deep understanding of issues that confront our national (and world) leaders. Over several years of teaching and coaching debate, I have witnessed students shift their views on a host of topics as a result of their debate experience. ... Whether forensics is a mainstay in the curriculum, an extracurricular club, or used occasionally by teachers in the classroom, it has the power to inspire students to learn and to help them grasp the concepts we aim to instill."


  • "The Write Stuff" by Christina Hoff Sommers, Women's Quarterly, Independent Women's Forum, Summer 2001. In arguing why penmanship should be a skill that is still taught, the author points out that without such instruction,
    "...many [children], especially boys, do not learn to write legibly. ... Handwriting is not correlated with IQ. ... But it does appear to be strongly correlated with grades. Several studies have confirmed that, when teachers are asked to grade papers of comparable quality, those that are neatly written get higher marks. ... But what about all the in-class assignments and tests that require written answers? Shouldn't someone consider the possibility that there is grading bias against boys and that by not teaching handwriting, boys are disadvantaged? At every stage of education boys get lower grades than girls. Their handwriting deficits are almost certainly a factor."

  • Whatever Happened to Penmanship? Center for Education Reform, 2006. "There's no question -- even among handwriting instructors -- that children must acquire computer skills. But Olsen argues that being able to print and write bolsters self-esteem as well as fosters a special appreciation for words and language. No computer printout can give children the boost that forming letters with their own hands does. And employers value both writing and computing skills." ... Handwriting methods fall into two major categories -- D'Nealian and Zaner-Bloser -- and both have their advocates. The D'Nealian method is a modified italic form where letters are shaped without lifting the pencil from the paper, thus making letter reversals virtually impossible. Zaner-Bloser uses vertical, straight letters that more closely resemble book print. Some writing techniques, like those espoused by the Riggs Institute, use a combination of both. ... Nuances of handwriting instruction techniques are moot points, however, if schools aren't devoting time to any handwriting programs at all. If that's the case, ... advice to parents is simple: do it yourself. Better yet, urge your school to train teachers and provide workbooks for handwriting instruction ..."

  • Lost Art of Penmanship by Natalie Troyer, Washington Times, January 17, 2005. "...Students still need to know how to communicate effectively through good handwriting skills, said Charles B. Pyle, director of communication at the Virginia State Department of Education. 'There will still be occasions when students need to express themselves with pen and paper, and what they write should be read and understood without a lot of difficulty,' he said. ... Advocates say teaching penmanship has benefits, citing research evidence of a direct link between the process of learning to write and developing the ability to read fluently."

  • Remember Penmanship? That's So 20th Century by Seema Mehta, Los Angeles Times, January 30, 2006 "... penmanship remains crucial to a student's success... A prime example is the SAT's new timed essay section, which must be handwritten. Though SAT graders are instructed not to let legibility influence how essays are scored, at least 10 studies have concluded that that's impossible, [said Steve Graham, a professor at Vanderbilt University]. ... 'You say, 'I want you to rate this for quality and content and ignore the handwriting.' They can't do it,' said Graham. 'The compositions with poor legibility get lower ratings and the ones with more legibility get better grades, even though the content is the same.' The new SAT section is among the factors prompting a few suburban school districts to revive the emphasis on penmanship..."

  • An article in Hospital Doctor magazine reports: "As my doctor was penning my prescription, I could not help commenting on his impeccably elegant handwriting. 'Yes, I know,' he said, 'I'm a disgrace to the profession'.' This anecdote ... seems to confirm what many health professionals already know - that doctors seldom write neatly or clearly."

  • Cursive dying at hands of computer kids, AP, June 19, 2003, "a growing number of parents, educators and historians ... fear that computers are speeding the demise of a uniquely American form of expression. Handwriting experts fear that the popularity of e-mail, instant messages and other electronic communication, particularly among kids, could erase cursive within a few decades."

  • Do you Remember Penmanship? by Tina Blue. "... I have scored essays from nearly every grade level, from third grade right up to and including high school. One thing that I have noticed is that at all levels, most students have deplorable penmanship. It is often a struggle to make out one word out of five in any given essay. Some essays are so entirely indecipherable that they must be flagged as unscoreable."

  • Write Way by Vanessa Everett, Beaumont [TX] Enterprise, April 19, 2004. "The second-grade teacher thumbed through a handwriting workbook while behind her, students bent over their books, painstakingly making lines and loops. ... Even in an age when most writing is done on a keyboard and the ability to type seems more valuable than the ability to write nicely, teachers and experts believe handwriting won't ever go out of style. But they sure wish people would learn to do it better."

  • Here's one more note of optimism, for at least some Texas schools: New Slant on an Old Discipline -- The Pen, Mightier Than the Keyboard? Schools Hold Line on Cursive by Toya Lynn Stewart, The Dallas Morning News, February 8, 2004. "According to the Texas Education Agency, handwriting 'is an important fine motor skill learned and refined' through the third grade. ... [T]he official state curriculum, has standards for 'gaining increasing control of particular aspects of penmanship.' Some of those aspects include stroke, posture, spacing and correct letter formation. 'Even as we're now in the computer age, handwriting is just as important today as it was in the past,' said [a] spokeswoman for TEA."


    From Investor's Business Daily, August 9, 2000: "A number of Web sites offer research papers that students can download and hand in as their own work, making plagiarism a larger problem than ever before on college campuses., for example, charges by the page for reports on a wide range of topics. Another site,, sells research and other items. With an estimated 2.1 billion pages on the Web, professors are unlikely to catch plagiarism by conducting their own searches. However, several companies now offer services that compare a student's research or papers to past work by the same student to detect plagiarism. By analyzing characteristics such as the length of sentences and how often a particular adjective is used, the software determines whether the work matches the style of the student's previous assignments. IParadigms, founded by two former University of California at Berkeley professors, offers a service called that compares a student's work with its database of about 125,000 research papers, material from academic Web sites, and files tagged by search engines. Other companies that offer services and software to help apprehend cheaters include Information Analytics, Glatt Plagiarism Services, and IntegriGuard."

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