The high school term paper — 10 to 15 pages with bibliography — is out of style, even for college-bound students, says the Los Angeles Times.

A report by the National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges, a panel of academics gathered by the College Board, found that 75 percent of high school seniors never receive writing assignments in history or social studies.

The study also found that a major research and writing project required in the senior year of high school "has become an educational curiosity, something rarely assigned." In addition, the report found that, by the first year of college, more than 50 percent of freshmen are unable to analyze or synthesize information or produce papers free of language errors.

Students learn how to do Power Point presentations; they design posters. It's all very multi-media. When they do write, they're often asked to express their feelings, not to make a coherent argument based on evidence.

The story concludes with a Santa Monica High senior who's never written a long term paper, though he's enrolled in honors and AP classes. He says writing research papers would take time from his extracurriculars: "band, tennis, religious studies and political and youth groups."

"To be accepted into a university, you have to be a stellar student, athletic, musically inclined and involved in the community," he said. "For students like me, if I was getting term and research papers, it would hinder my ability to perform well in other classes and continue all of the extracurricular activities I am involved in."

He's going to Duke. Good luck on learning to organize and write a term paper, kid. You'll need it.

Let's All Work for the Government for Nothing!

Sen. John Kerry wants high schools to require community service or lose federal funds.

TNR's Primary observes that schools are having trouble funding academic classes, music, art and sports; another unfunded mandate is the last thing schools need.

Even with funding, a service requirement is a distraction: Many students need to spend more time on academics and less time on extracurriculars.

Kerry also proposed a free public-college education in exchange for two years as a volunteer. I wonder if he's willing to provide federal college aid only to students who've served in the military or a civilian equivalent. That would make some sense, and avoid coercion.

Kerry also wants to put seniors to work under the catchy name "Retired But Not Tired." Can't seniors find their own volunteer opportunities? And he proposes a Summer of Service for teenagers not old enough to work.

I envision eager youths and cheerful seniors marching off to their work assignments, singing patriotic songs. Only they're singing in Russian, for some reason.

In Search of Discipline

The BBC thinks U.S. schools are being militarized: Military recruiters can contact high school students, enlistees are offered college benefits and poor blacks and Hispanics can escape chaotic schools for disciplined, structured academies.

There's no doubt that academies and JROTC programs appeal most to kids who've grown up in dangerous neighborhoods with lousy schools. Students crave order, a sense of purpose and pride and attention from responsible men. Is it so awful to give that to them?

The BBC quotes a woman who disapproves:

"It's giving hope to a lot of people that frankly don't have a lot of other options in our society."

Apparently, she wishes to take that hope away.

The reporter visits a school, mostly Hispanic, with a history of mob violence. Upstairs is Patton Military Academy, where students "learn the patriotic creed and flag folding in a rigid, disciplined environment."

Actually, they learn normal high school subjects, not just jingoism and flag folding.

The attraction for students is that the military pay their tuition fees for their higher education.

But, in return, students have to join the army, the reserves or the National Guard.

Students who don't want to join don't have to.

Bronzeville student Elizabeth Stewart had signed up for the army — but did not understand the extent of her commitment.

Her college bills were paid by the military. But now she and her mother are faced with the realities of National Guard service — she could be sent to the Middle East.

She went through Bronzeville Military Academy and college, but just now figured out that military service sometimes involves being sent to dangerous places? She must be angling for a stupidity discharge.

Running Funny

An English primary school has banned parents from sports day lest they embarrass their unathletic children.

In a letter to parents, (Head Teacher Judith) Wressel writes: "Taking part in traditional races can be difficult and often embarrassing for many children, which is why we now envisage a different outdoor activity event which will suit all children."

The school is working on eliminating competitive events, and may let parents attend next year, if the kiddies can take the pressure.

I remember Field Day at Ravinia School. I came in last in the foot race. My parents pointed out that I might have nipped some of the slower girls if I'd run straight for the finish line, instead of proceeding diagonally across the field. In six years, I never won a ribbon — except for the stupid green participation ribbon that everybody got in kindergarten before the race. I might add "stupid" was the consensus view of the kindergarten class. I survived.

Half the News That's Fit to Print

Florida third graders who fail the state's reading exam must repeat the grade, according to Michael Winerip's New York Times column.

Florida has set a national precedent, giving the adults who know these third graders best — their teachers and principals — absolutely no say in who will be kept back.

A quick Google tells a different story. The Orlando Sentinel reports third graders who flunk the exam can pass to fourth grade if the principal and teacher say the student can read at grade level.

A provision of the new retention law allows students who score at the lowest of the FCAT's five levels, the failure point, to be promoted based on class work or other tests. But the student's teacher, principal and superintendent all have to sign off on the decision, and state officials are developing a strict procedure to check each one.

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer. Now she blogs for tips at JoanneJacobs.com while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

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