Monday, February 24, 2020
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IL students now have to study cursive writing

The Illinois General Assembly passed a bill to require students to be trained in cursive writing, but Gov Bruce Rauner vetoed it, calling it yet another unfunded mandate; state lawmakers voted last month, 42-12, to override that veto.

The new law, which takes effect in July, requires each individual school district to determine when to provide at least one unit of training in cursive writing, but that unit must be completed by all students by the time they finish fifth grade.

Although I agree that this is another unfunded mandate and it requires schools to modify their curricular offerings on a subject that does not have an impact on student safety—something I abandon my “unfunded mandate” opposition to support—I also have to admit that cursive writing has benefits for students, and if Illinois communities want to require schools to teach it, that’s what state legislatures are for.

Last year, Alabama and Louisiana became the latest of 14 states to pass laws requiring cursive proficiency in public schools, according to the Christian Science Monitor. And in the fall, New York City Schools, the country’s largest school district, with 1.1 million students, “encouraged” teaching cursive to elementary school students. Now Illinois would make 15 states to require, by law, cursive writing instruction for elementary school students.

Cursive writing may have some benefits for students, beyond those of being able to read some historical documents and sign checks, which are, for the most part, a dying tradition.

“The College Board found that students who wrote in cursive for the essay portion of the SAT scored slightly higher than those who printed,” the New York Times reported. That statistic comes from a few years back, and computers have become much more common on tests like the SAT than handwriting. But I can also offer my own anecdotal evidence, as a person who has been scoring student writing on statewide standardized tests in US government, high school biology, mathematics, and other subjects that tests the acquisition of English by native speakers of other languages for almost two decades, kids who write out the responses get better scores.

I don’t know why that happens, but there seems to be a difference in the way the brain is engaged when students write out responses in pencil or pen and the way it’s engaged when they type the response on a keyboard. It’s very difficult to say these results are conclusive about cursive writing, though, as many other variables may have had an effect on the results.

But in any case, students who used handwriting, and in particular, cursive writing, perform no worse than those who typed their responses on a keyboard. And given the historical significance of cursive writing, maybe the lawmakers in those 15 states have a point.

Anyway, schools in Illinois have to decide by July when they will teach this one unit of cursive writing, which they may have already been doing. Now it’s required by law.

Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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