Schools would be required to teach cursive writing under bill; school boards may oppose proposal

Wisconsin elementary schools would be required to teach cursive writing under a new bill being circulated at the state Capitol, but it may face opposition from some school boards.

The proposal, which is still in its early stages, would require the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction to incorporate cursive writing into its language arts model. It is sponsored by the chairs of both chambers’ education committees, Republicans Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt and Sen. Luther Olsen, as well as Democratic Sen. LaTonya Johnson.

“(Cursive) is a basic skill that schools have always taught, and I see it still as being important,” Thiesfeldt said. “It’s been, I think, an unfortunate thing that schools have turned away from it.”

Under the bill, public schools, independent charter schools and private schools would be required to include cursive writing in their elementary school curriculums. The proposal would require schools to include the objective that students be able to write legibly in cursive by the end of fifth grade.

Thiesfeldt, a former teacher, listed many benefits to learning cursive including that it is faster than writing in print, involves hand-eye coordination, stimulates different parts of the brain and what he calls the “historical aspect” of it.

“I think that our students should be able to read the original manuscripts of the Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution or a myriad of other old documents,” Thiesfeldt said.

The Wisconsin Association of School Boards will likely oppose the bill when it is formally introduced, according to governmental relations director Dan Rossmiller.

Rossmiller questioned the relevance of the proposal and what schools would be giving up if they are required to teach cursive.

“There are a number of school districts and school boards have decided that they don’t think cursive writing is something they ought to be spending time on,” Rossmiller said. “I’m inclined to think that we should be teaching students how to code instead of teaching them cursive.”

A spokesperson for the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction said many school districts teach cursive but could not provide hard data.

The bipartisan lawmakers who are introducing the bill said many students with learning disabilities, specifically dyslexia, can struggle with writing in print. They said research has shown that cursive writing may come more naturally to these students and can improve learning outcomes.

Kelly Kuenzie, director of the Madison Children’s Dyslexia Center, said the students who come to her center can choose whether they want to learn cursive. About a third of the 50 students choose to do so.

“It absolutely has helped some of our students get their ideas down on paper and be more comfortable writing a note or even a letter,” Kuenzie explained.

Why is cursive easier to write than print? Kuenzie said it involves a number of reasons, including that all the lowercase letters start at the baseline, so students do not have to question where to begin the letter. She said cursive letters are also more unique from print letters, making it easier to distinguish between different letters.

Cursive can also improve the speed and accuracy of notetaking, she explained.

“When you write something, it increases the chances of putting it to memory,” Kuenzie said.

Fifteen states now require students to be proficient in cursive, according to the state legislators.

A spokesperson for the Madison Metropolitan School District said cursive writing is taught in second and third grades in the district.

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