I missed school Friday to attend a workshop on "differentiated instruction," basically the practice of teaching to each student’s strengths. It was a decent workshop, the third installment in a half-dozen strong series held over the course of the school year.
The best part of the workshops for me is getting the opportunity to talk to others in my field, something there is little time for during the school day. During lunch I chatted with a couple of elementary-school teachers and they remarked that the reading and writing they did with students 15 years ago would be over the heads of their students today.
The first time I noticed a decline in writing skills among the young was in the late 1990s, when I was working as a newspaper editor. I kept getting assigned kids right out of college, and none of them could write. They’d make very basic mistakes, including confusing “their/there/they’re,” inserting commas seemingly at random, and writing “would’ve” as “would of.” I spent hours on deadline fixing these errors.
It’s a nationwide problem. In 2007, the National Center for Educational Progress (NCEP) said only one in five high-school students can be considered “proficient” in writing. Twenty percent of 12th-graders are “not even basic writers,” according to the NCEP report.
So why is this happening and what are we going to do about it?