Goshen News, Goshen, IN

February 8, 2013

The lost art of cursive: Local schools don't require it in curriculum

By JOHN KLINE
THE GOSHEN NEWS

— GOSHEN — Cursive writing instruction in Indiana schools has not been mandatory for a couple years now, and for several local educators, that’s just fine by them.

The Indiana Department of Education dropped its cursive writing requirement in 2011 after the State Board of Education voted to adopt Common Core State Standards, a system which favors student proficiency in typing over cursive writing as more and more instruction and testing is administered via computer.

However, state senators Tuesday passed a bill sponsored by Indiana state Sen. Jean Leising which would reverse the state DOE’s decision to make cursive writing optional. With the bill now on its way to the Statehouse, several local educators have come forward in opposition to the legislation.

Central to their stance is the idea that decisions concerning curriculum should be left in the hands of those who deal with it on a daily basis — school teachers and administrators. Still others question whether cursive writing is even relevant in an age when the computer keyboard seems to have surpassed the pen as the preferred means of written communication.

According to Steven Thalheimer, superintendent of Fairfield Community Schools, cursive writing instruction within his district is handled in a much more limited way today than it was in the past, focusing more on giving students a basic understanding of the structure rather than full mastery.

“We teach it in limited ways, mainly so that students can read it and maybe sign their name or know the basics,” Thalheimer said, “but we don’t teach it with the intensity that we used to.”

Much of that, he said, has to do with the recent adoption of Common Core Standards, which focuses much more on computer-based assessments.

“In the digital age, with everything being typed, and texted and emailed, you don’t need to be able to decipher cursive writing as much anymore,” Thalheimer said. “With the Common Core, when it’s fully online and fully implemented, those are all supposed to be computer-based assessments, so computer skills and computer literacy will be critical to doing well on those assessments.”

In addition to the evolving technology aspect, Thalheimer pointed to the fact that mandated cursive writing instruction would also require cutting instructional time in other key areas such as reading and math — something he does not feel would be in the best interest of his students at this time.

“It would really be nice for this to remain a local decision for what’s going to be best to prepare students and how best we can use our time,” Thalheimer said. “If it were mandated, you would have to make choices about what you were going to teach and not teach in order to be able to fit cursive in full-time.”

Jane Allen, superintendent of Middlebury Community Schools, referenced similar concerns when discussing the bill. Like Fairfield, Middlebury currently allows its teachers to teach cursive writing, though only in a limited capacity and not at the expense of other core subjects.

“The teachers know we don’t have to teach it, so it’s kind of left up to them to decide if they have time in their daily schedules to fit it in,” Allen said. “Our concern is if they mandate it, we don’t know where we’re going to fit it in, and how it’s going to be measured. We’d have an issue with the assessment of it as well as the time it would take to teach it. So we’re watching just like everyone else to see what happens.”

Over at Wa-Nee Community Schools, director of curriculum and instruction Jim Bennett said his corporation has also adopted a significantly streamlined version of cursive instruction in light of the increasing emphasis being put on technology and on-line instruction.

“We realize that kids need experiences in these 21st century skills, but we’re also not forgetting that they need to be able to write and communicate in more traditional ways as well,” Bennett said. “So we do some lessons on cursive writing, but I would venture to say that it’s not to the extent that it was when you or I were in school.”

That said, Bennett acknowledged the impact that today’s technology is having on the learning environment and the skills that will be needed by students as they graduate and move into the workforce.

“If you think about what a kid has to be able to do as they’re graduating and going on to college and into the workforce, the vast majority of what they’re going to have to be doing is electronic with the growing popularity of things like tablets and smart phones and everything being done online,” Bennett said. “So for a vast majority of these students, if they can sign their name, that’s pretty much all they’re going to have to know when it comes to cursive.”