By Maureen Hayden
CNHI Statehouse Bureau
A bill that would require Indiana’s public schools to teach cursive writing is one of the first items that may come up for debate as the Indiana General Assembly begins its 2013 session.
The bill, sponsored by Republican state senators Jean Leising of Oldenburg and Mike Delph of Carmel, would reverse a 2011 Indiana Department of Education decision that made teaching cursive writing optional.
The proposed legislation is scheduled for its first committee hearing Wednesday — just two days after the legislative session started — along with several other education-related bills.
“This is one of the issues that people in our districts talk about,” Leising said. “If you can’t write in cursive, how are you going to sign a legal document?”
Delph echoed Leising’s concerns: “I routinely have people show up at my town hall meetings and say, ‘Why aren’t we teaching cursive anymore? Why aren’t we requiring that it be taught?”
The reason: Under the national Common Core State Standards adopted by the Indiana State Board of Education in 2010, elementary school students are no longer required to be proficient in cursive writing.
They are, however, required to be proficient in computer keyboarding skills by the time they leave elementary school.
In April 2011, state Department of Education officials sent a memo to local school administrators in Indiana telling them that they had the option of dropping cursive writing so they could focus more on helping students become more proficient in keyboard use.
While the state doesn’t keep track of school districts that teach cursive writing, state officials said Monday that they haven’t heard of any school districts that have quit teaching it.
The debate over the usefulness of learning how to write in cursive is playing out in states across the nation. Those in favor of cursive argue it hones motor skills and reinforces literacy. Those who see it as dispensable argue it takes up valuable teaching time better spent on other subjects.
In the 2012 session, Leising pushed for similar legislation, which passed out of the state Senate but died in the House when the bill didn’t get a hearing. She thinks there may be more support this year, given the change of leadership at the state education department.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Bennett, who leaves office on Jan. 14, was a strong advocate of the Common Core State Standards. Glenda Ritz, the Democrat who defeated Bennett in his November bid for re-election, has called for the state board of education to re-evaluate the Common Core standards.
Ritz declined to comment on the cursive writing bill since she hasn’t had a chance to review its language.
The cursive-writing bill hasn’t found the support of state Rep. Bob Behning, R-Indianapolis, who chairs the House education committee. Behning said he’s “not inclined” at this point to support the bill by giving it a hearing if it passes out of the Senate.
But Leising plans to argue that cursive writing is still an essential skill that needs to be taught. To illustrate that point, she said one of her legislative staff members who took the standardized test required for graduate school had to answer an essay question using cursive writing.
Two of the common standardized tests for entrance to college, the SAT test and Advanced Placement exams, also call for handwritten essays.
On Wednesday, the Senate education committee will also consider a bill, authored by Delph, that seeks to give local school administrators at top-performing schools more flexibility to set class schedules and curriculum as they see fit.
Under the bill, administrators in school districts that have high graduation rates and high student scores on standardized tests, wouldn’t be bound by the state’s 180-day class schedules. Those schools could also develop their own curriculum, and create their own teacher evaluations and career and technical training programs.
Maureen Hayden covers the Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at email@example.com.