MCT: State BOE to debate role of cursive

11/13/2012

By SUZANNE PEREZ TOBIAS

By SUZANNE PEREZ TOBIAS

The Wichita Eagle

(MCT) — Should children born into a world of computers, iPads, smartphones and e-cards have to learn old-fashioned cursive handwriting?

The State Board of Education was scheduled to explore the topic today during its regular monthly meeting in Topeka.

Walt Chappell, a state board member from Wichita, said he requested information from Kansas Department of Education officials on the teaching of cursive handwriting because he wants to know how or even whether it's still taught in Kansas schools.

He believes it should be.

"Absolutely, no question," he said. "We've got to be able to communicate with each other in written form. ... Technology is great, but it doesn't always work. There are all kinds of situations where you have to know how to write longhand."

The Common Core Standards for English, adopted by the State Board of Education in 2010, do not include cursive writing as a requirement. But even before that, the state did not set standards for handwriting or require it be taught in Kansas classrooms.

"It's a motor skill like any number of other motor skills," said Kathy Toelkes, spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Education.

"Curriculum has always been a local board decision," she said. "We set standards and guidelines for what students should know and be able to do ... but cursive handwriting and handwriting in general has not been a part of that."

Toelkes said state officials sent a survey to school districts asking them to describe the extent to which cursive is being taught in their schools. Results were to be presented to state board members today.

\Today's children type, text and e-mail more frequently than they write longhand. And for most students, state assessments — required under the federal No Child Left Behind law — are computerized.

Kansas officials so far have taken no position on handwriting — cursive or otherwise — in schools. But leaders in some other states have sparked intense reactions by dropping requirements for learning cursive.

In Indiana last year, the state Department of Education caused a stir when it sent a memo to principals noting that the Common Core Standards "do not include cursive writing at all."

"Instead, students are expected to become proficient with keyboarding skills," the memo said.

Reaction was fierce, particularly from those who believe writing letters by hand, over and over again, helps students remember the names and sounds of letters and makes them better readers.

A growing body of research from the past decade also points to a link between handwriting and brain development, showing that sequential hand movements used in handwriting activate the regions of the brain associated with thinking, short-term memory and language.

Sharon Iorio, dean of Wichita State University's College of Education, said her faculty believes cursive will still be taught in schools, but the emphasis has waned.

"Cursive writing would likely fall under the rubric of 'rote' learning, which is not emphasized in the Common Core," Iorio said in an e-mail. "Yet, obviously there is a place in education for rote learning."

For example, Iorio said, most teachers and parents agree that it's good for students learn and practice certain basic, rote math skills, such as learning to count to 100 by the end of kindergarten or first grade.

"While learning to write in cursive is still an important element of elementary education, the emphasis on it is no longer as important as in the past," she said.

Chappell, the Kansas board member, said he's not sure what, if anything, the state board can do to ensure children learn cursive and other basic skills. But he hopes they do.

"My opinion is, we need all of the above: We need to be able to work with technology, but we have to make sure kids can still write and communicate. Why give up on it?"

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