The Legislative Push to Bring Back Cursive

The bill would require students to be able to write legibly in cursive by the fifth grade.

The bill would require students to be able to write legibly in cursive by the fifth grade. Shutterstock

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Lawmakers in Wisconsin are seeking to mandate cursive handwriting education in schools—part of a growing state trend.

Loop the T, hold the pen just so, practice writing, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog": if legislators in Wisconsin have their way, elementary school students will soon become versed in the lost art of cursive handwriting instruction.

Many states dropped requirements for cursive education with the adoption of Common Core curriculum standards around 2010. But Wisconsin never had a mandate to begin with, and lesson plans that taught cursive were phased out there as computers became more common, said state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt.

“The computer revolution just kind of pushed it out of curriculums, mostly because of time constraints,” he said. “But also because some people decided it just wasn’t important anymore, because most of what was done and communicated by writing was via typing.”

Some school districts in the state still teach cursive, but the timing varies, and many don’t offer it at all. Wisconsin’s curriculum requires only that students master the ability to print uppercase and lowercase letters by first grade. 

Thiesfeldt’s bill, introduced last month, would change that by requiring the state to modify its academic standards for English language arts to include cursive writing in elementary schools—public, private and charter. Specifically, each school curriculum “must include the objective that pupils be able to write legibly in cursive by the end of fifth grade.” (‘Legibly’ is subjective, Thiesfeldt noted, and would likely be left to the discretion of each classroom’s teacher.)

A former educator, Thiesfeldt said the legislation is based on more than simple wistfulness for the forgotten art of letter-writing. Research has shown that students learn better and retain more information when they take notes by hand rather than on computer, and cursive, he said, is more conducive to quick note-taking than printing.

“Some people like to say it’s outdated. Some like to say it’s important because we need to be able to sign checks and other legal documents, or we need to be able to read historical documents, like the Declaration of Independence, in their original form,” he said. “While I find all that stuff is important, I don’t think that’s a reason to mandate it. The reason to mandate it is because it’s a training process for children’s minds. It’s more than just nostalgia.”

A fiscal estimate for the legislation predicted that local impacts could range from $1.7 million to $5.95 million statewide, though Thiesfeldt thinks actual costs are likely to be much lower given that roughly half of the schools in the state already teach cursive.

With the legislation, Wisconsin joins a recent state-level push to reintroduce cursive handwriting instruction in schools. At least 18 states require it, some by legislative mandate and some according to the state school board standards. The most recent to make the switch was Texas, where the State Board of Education tweaked its standards to require students to write legibly in cursive by the third grade. Those changes took effect this school year.

The bill has bipartisan support and is co-sponsored by Republican lawmakers who head both of the state’s committees on education. If passed into law—Thiesfeldt thinks its chances are good—the mandate would be implemented ahead of the 2020 school year.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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