Cursive lessons dwindle as schools shift focus to computers

Crosby Elementary third-grade teacher Beth Schmidt instructs her students Friday in cursive writing in Harvard. New Common Core standards do not mandate the teaching of cursive writing.
Crosby Elementary third-grade teacher Beth Schmidt instructs her students Friday in cursive writing in Harvard. New Common Core standards do not mandate the teaching of cursive writing.

Five years ago, Harvard District 50 did what many school districts across the country have done in the past decade.

In a world revolving around computers, administrators took a look at the practicality of teaching cursive writing. At the time, the average third-grader spent about a half-hour each day learning to read and write the curvy, connected script.

“What we decided at that point was spending the half-hour a day on cursive handwriting with the emphasis of going paperless was not the best use of our time,” said Mary Cooke, District 50’s district literacy coordinator.

District 50 made a decision that has become common. School districts across the country are scaling back cursive writing training or, in some cases, cutting it altogether.

Some opponents of the new Common Core learning standards, which emphasize computer-based learning, have said that because the standards don’t call for cursive instruction, they are likely to cause the craft’s extinction.

But if that’s true in Illinois, it won’t be because of any specific change in requirements. Individual school districts are responsible for setting their own cursive curriculums.

Although it used to have a greater presence in Illinois classrooms, cursive has never been required as a part of state learning standards, Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said.

“We don’t track lesson plans on cursive/handwriting specifically, but we understand some districts are not teaching at all and many don’t put as much emphasis on cursive as a couple decades ago,” Fergus said in an email to the Northwest Herald.

District 50 has de-emphasized cursive, but it hasn’t gotten rid of it.

Third-graders now spend 10 to 15 minutes a day learning the letters. The end goal is that each student will be able to sign their name and read cursive, Cooke said.

Huntley District 158 similarly is aiming to keep cursive alive.

Michelle George, District 158 director of curriculum and instruction, said that beyond the importance of passing along a level of cursive education, learning the skill gives students a chance to hone fine motor skills.

Still, the district has reduced its cursive training time.

“We might have spent maybe 20 to 30 minutes a day at one point,” George said. “[Now] maybe it’s five to 10 minutes a day.”

Other districts, such as District 200, have done away with formal cursive writing programs entirely. Many districts are choosing to put that time toward computer skills, Fergus said.

That has been the case in District 50, but Cooke can’t imagine that administrators will ever fully abandon cursive.

George said the same about District 158 officials.

“Until handwriting is completely gone, I can’t see it going away,” she said.

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