Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

April 7, 2013

Kentucky students still learning cursive

Mike James
The Independent

ASHLAND — Kentucky teachers have long been resigned to walking the tightrope of teaching what is required by accountability standards and teaching everything else children need for a well-rounded education.

That is why even though there is no state mandate to teach cursive writing and the newly adopted common core standards don’t address it, children at most elementaries in Kentucky are learning the flowing curves and loops that separate the little kids from the big ones.

Education experts say most teachers manage to teach cursive by embedding it into other lessons, said Kentucky Department of Education spokeswoman Nancy Rodriguez. Teaching it as a separate skill, however, is falling by the wayside.

The reason is simple: there are only so many hours in the school day to pack in a lot of teaching. Teachers emphasize the content rather than the mechanics of writing, said Greenup County curriculum director Diana Whitt. “I think we all realize cursive is a skill we will continue to need, but we have to balance it with the need for typing skills,” she said.

In the computer age, children are put in front of a keyboard as early as kindergarten, and while in those early years the typing is of the hunt and peck variety, keyboarding now is a required elementary school skill.

Whether cursive is part of the curriculum is a school council decision for the most part. In Greenup schools, principals encourage it and the district consensus is that cursive is important.

So far there has been no state legislative effort in Kentucky to include cursive as part of educational standards, said Kentucky School Boards Association spokesman Brad Hughes.

That’s not to say teachers don’t still advocate cursive. Many do, but there appears to be a generational shift, according to Debbie Finley, chief academic officer in the Russell district.

Teachers who started their careers in the early 1990s and particularly before the Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 are most adamant that cursive is a classroom must, Finley said. Younger teachers who grew up with computer keyboards and cell phones are less likely to cling to cursive.

Such teachers, accustomed to the 140-character limit of Twitter, embrace brief, to the point writing styles that lend themselves to keyboarding, Finley said.

But there is a lot to like about cursive, she said. It remains a better medium for taking notes because it is fast and — Finley contends — sparks something in the brain that better preserves the noted material in memory. “I can type all day long and not remember anything I typed,” she said.

A former elementary school principal, Finley said second- and third-grade teachers typically spent 15 minutes per day on cursive.

Although keyboarding is here to stay, Finley believes cursive remains an important skill. People still need to sign their names and write notes when there is no electronic device at hand.

They also need to be able to read what other people have written, she said.

MIKE JAMES can be reached at mjames@dailyindependent.com or (606) 326-2652.