Policy Documents

Writing Instruction In Massachusetts

Alison L. Fraser –
February 11, 2011


This new Pioneer Institute policy brief on student writing in our schools will be helpful if it highlights the understanding that students will need to write often and at length in college and beyond. Personal and creative writing alone do not prepare students for college term papers or for the memoranda and reports they may need to write at work. With the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test of writing showing 55 percent of Massachusetts’ eighth graders scoring "needs improvement" or below, it ought to be clear that, despite any progress our schools have made in writing under education reform, many schools still have a long way to go.

A Harvard College student who attended a public high school in California wrote:




"I had never written more than five paragraphs for any essay or paper in my


entire academic career prior to entering university. Not one…It took me two years [at Harvard] to gain a working knowledge of paper writing, to get to a point where I was constructing arguments and using evidence to support them. I read pamphlets and books on the mechanics of writing college papers, but the reality is simple: you only learn how to write papers by writing them."

Since 1987, I have published more than 800 history research papers by high school students from around the world. Every student I have heard from after they got to college told me that they were among the very few of their peers who were prepared for college writing assignments. These students also noted that many of their friends came to them for help writing papers.

We must give Massachusetts’ students the practice they need in academic writing—just as we give them practice in algebra, geometry, and science—to help them prepare for their work in and after higher education. As Alison Fraser explains, the failure to do this has cost our economy and many of our students very dearly in recent years.