Curriculum

More States Require Schools to Teach Cursive Writing. Why?

By Elizabeth Heubeck — November 16, 2023 5 min read
Photo of child practicing cursive writing.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

On October 13, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed into law a bill making cursive handwriting instruction mandatory in 1st through 6th grades. The legislation passed this year, but it could have just as easily made news nearly 200 years ago. In 1850, cursive writing was first introduced widely in schools, developed “based on fluid movements observed in nature,” according to the National Museum of American History.

The irony is that this push for cursive comes at a time when technological advances like laptops and other electronic devices have made keyboard-operated text communication quick, efficient, and widely available to K-12 students. An increasing number of states—California is only the most recent—are attempting to reintroduce the loopy, artistic form of cursive writing into curriculum standards. Here’s a look at how we got, or rather returned, here.

Common core standards pushed out cursive

Launched in 2010, the Common Core State Standards outlined specific skills in English/language arts and mathematics in an effort to bring some national cohesion to K-12 instruction. The standards don’t expressly mention cursive writing. They do, however, refer explicitly to keyboard skills in grades 3 through 5. For instance, the common-core standards expect 4th graders to “demonstrate sufficient command of keyboarding skills to type a minimum of one page in a single sitting.”

By the mid-2010s, as many as 46 states and the District of Columbia adopted the standards. Consequently, cursive writing instruction waned. But within the past decade, statewide cursive requirements have been trending upward.

In 2016, 14 states required schools to teach cursive writing. During the 2018-2019 school year, that number jumped to 19. Currently, 21 states require some sort of cursive handwriting instruction, according to mycursive.com, a website that tracks cursive writing requirements nationwide.

Tracking state-by-state keyboarding requirements proves more difficult, according to the Education Commission of the States, a research clearinghouse, which has identified only four states that include keyboarding in state standards or graduation requirements: New York, Utah, South Carolina, and Texas.

The cursive comeback: a backlash to technology?

The renewed interest in cursive writing seems to be both in spite of the growing availability of advanced communication technology powered by artificial intelligence and because of it.

For instance, ensuring that students can read historical documents written in cursive tops the list of arguments that advocates of cursive make for its inclusion in the K-12 curriculum. California Assemblywoman Sharon Quirk-Silva, a former teacher of 30 years, made this point in a press conference about the recent California cursive bill that she authored.

“A lot of the historical documents going back two or three decades are actually in cursive,” she told the Sacramento Bee. Students need to be able to read them, she said.

But technological advances challenge such arguments. For instance, companies like Transkribus use artificial intelligence to transcribe documents in cursive, thereby making handwritten historical records accessible to students.

Similarly, advanced technology makes it possible to identify people using methods such as facial recognition, invalidating the notion of cursive signatures as essential unique identifiers. That argument has been made by cursive advocates such as Dickie Drake, a Republican state representative in Alabama who introduced a bill requiring schools in that state to teach cursive writing. The bill became law in 2016. “I think your cursive writing identifies you as much as your physical features do,” Drake told The New York Times.

But technology-driven cheating—from ‘lifting’ passages directly from online text to using ChatGPT to complete assignments—is a concern of teachers, as recent survey data indicate. On social media, some educators see a return to cursive writing as a way to combat these tech-heavy forms of cheating:

“Particularly in an age when AI gives such easy access to plagiarism, the ability to write one’s own thoughts down in handwriting (sans computer technology) seems pretty important. I see more teachers going back to handwritten, in-class assessments for this very reason. The ability to write fluently on paper will never be obsolete.”

Ashley, B.

This comment came in response to a nonscientific Education Week LinkedIn poll asking educators whether they think cursive writing or keyboarding should take priority for elementary-age students. Within two days of posting the poll, 1,545 educators had responded: 43 percent in favor of cursive and 57 percent in favor of keyboarding. Some placed equal weight on both skills:

“There should be a choice for both since they’re both equally important. We live in an age where keyboarding skills are important but learning cursive engages the brain in a different way than printing.”

Jacquelyn, R-A

Research supports cursive

The positive response rate to the Linkedin survey indicates how strongly educators feel about cursive writing. A robust body of research extolling its benefits may explain why.

Researchers have credited learning how to write in cursive with an array of benefits for young students—from building fine motor skills to stimulating and creating synergies between different hemispheres of the brain involved in thinking, language, and working memory.

These evidence-based benefits of learning how to write in cursive are powerful. But that doesn’t make cursive writing easy to implement in the classroom setting.

Even before the common-core standards were introduced and cursive handwriting was a foundational aspect of many elementary school curricula, time-strapped teachers reported challenges teaching it. In a survey of elementary education teachers in the early 2000s, fewer than half of respondents indicated that the speed of handwriting allowed students to keep up with classroom demands, and just 12 percent of respondents agreed that they had received adequate preparation to teach handwriting in their college classes.

How will teachers manage to reintroduce cursive writing into the classroom, especially as additional competing requirements like teaching keyboarding vie for instructional time? Just like writing those loopy capital cursive letters, it will take time, perseverance, and practice.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How To Tackle The Biggest Hurdles To Effective Tutoring
Learn how districts overcome the three biggest challenges to implementing high-impact tutoring with fidelity: time, talent, and funding.
Content provided by Saga Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Reframing Behavior: Neuroscience-Based Practices for Positive Support
Reframing Behavior helps teachers see the “why” of behavior through a neuroscience lens and provides practices that fit into a school day.
Content provided by Crisis Prevention Institute
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Math for All: Strategies for Inclusive Instruction and Student Success
Looking for ways to make math matter for all your students? Gain strategies that help them make the connection as well as the grade.
Content provided by NMSI

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Curriculum Photos PHOTOS: Inside an AP African American Studies Class
The AP African American studies course has sparked national debate since the pilot kicked off in 2022. Here's a look inside the classroom.
Students listen to a lesson on Black fraternities and sororities during Ahenewa El-Amin’s AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Students listen to a lesson on Black fraternities and sororities during Ahenewa El-Amin’s AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Curriculum Video VIDEO: What AP African American Studies Looks Like in Practice
The AP African American studies course has sparked national debate since the pilot kicked off in 2022. A look inside the classroom.
Ahenewa El-Amin leads a conversation with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Ahenewa El-Amin leads a conversation with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Curriculum Anti-Critical-Race-Theory Laws Are Slowing Down. Here Are 3 Things to Know
After a wave of bills limiting class discussions on race and gender, an Education Week analysis shows the policies have slowed.
5 min read
A man holds up a sign during a protest against Critical Race Theory outside a Washoe County School District board meeting on May 25, 2021, in Reno, Nev.
A man holds up a sign during a protest against critical race theory outside a Washoe County School District board meeting on May 25, 2021, in Reno, Nev. This year, the numbers of bills being proposed to restrict what schools can teach and discuss about race and racism have slowed down from prior years.
Andy Barron/Reno Gazette-Journal via AP
Curriculum History Group Finds Little Evidence of K-12 'Indoctrination'
Most social science educators say they keep politics out of the classroom, but need help identifying good curriculum resources
6 min read
Photo of U.S. flag in classroom.
iStock / Getty Images Plus