Wisconsin schoolchildren would need to learn the loops and swoops of cursive — and be able to legibly write in that style by the fifth grade — under a proposal in the state Legislature.
Republican lawmakers who head each of the Legislature’s education committees are sponsoring a bill, which has some bipartisan support, that would mandate children in traditional public schools, independent charters and private schools participating in the state’s voucher programs be taught cursive writing in the elementary grades.
“This is a skill that has in many cases left our schools,” said Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac. “It’s not a positive thing, because our schools are supposed to be focusing on reading, writing and arithmetic.”
The reasons for the proposal go “beyond nostalgia” for the writing style, he said.
Thiesfeldt, chairman of the Assembly’s Education Committee, said research suggests taking notes by hand, as opposed to typing, can lead to better comprehension and understanding of material.
Compared to traditional printing, cursive is also a faster method of note-taking and a better way to develop hand-eye coordination, Thiesfeldt said.
It’s unclear how many Wisconsin schools include cursive in their curriculum, since the Department of Public Instruction does not track that information.
Officials with the School District of La Crosse, where second- and third-graders still learn cursive, say they’re well-positioned for a potential mandate. Even as technology in schools has grown more sophisticated, cursive has never lost its foothold in the local curriculum.
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“The school district has been teaching cursive all along, and it’s present in our schools right up through graduation,” said Rob Tyvoll, who oversees English and language arts instruction for the district. “I know there are proponents of straight-up keyboarding, looking at the age of the technology … but there’s a fair amount of research into cursive and the benefits kids derive from it. Over time, we’ve held the belief that cursive still has value for our kids, and there’s still an important place for it in our curriculum.”
Officials with the Onalaska school district did not respond to messages asking for their position on cursive, while officials with the Holmen school district said they still teach it, though not to the extent they used to.
“If we don’t learn how to write it, obviously we can’t read it, and there’s benefits as far as the connectivity in the brain,” said Kim Edwards, director of instructional services in Holmen. If there is a mandate, “we’ll want to see how detailed the requirements are. They’re discussing proficiency by fifth grade, so we’ll want to know what that looks like and how they’ll measure that.”
Dan Rossmiller, director of government relations for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, said his organization has not taken a position on the bill, which has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.
In general, Rossmiller said, the association opposes educational mandates written into state law, especially unfunded ones.
“Is that something employers are demanding their prospective employees learn? I don’t know,” he said about cursive instruction. “I would think they probably would be more interested in whether they can keyboard or not.”
As for determining whether a child is proficient in cursive by the fifth grade, it would likely be left to teachers, said Thiesfeldt, a former teacher who used to grade students on their handwriting abilities.
With state Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, the chair of the Senate Education Committee, also sponsoring the proposed mandate, Thiesfeldt said he views the bill’s chances of passing as “pretty strong.”