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Cursive on track to make a comeback in Az schools
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Cursive on track to make a comeback in Az schools

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Cursive has disappeared from Arizona public schools, but a new Senate bill would require cursive reading and writing be taught.

The Common Core teaching standards were adopted by 43 states — including Arizona — in 2010 and do not require cursive reading and writing instruction. Since then a small number of states passed bills that brought cursive back to the classroom.

Arizona’s version of the bill — SB 1197 — requires public schools include cursive instruction in the minimum course of study, which defines what subjects schools need to teach students like mathematics or science. It also excludes cursive reading and writing from testing.

The bill’s sponsor, District 14 Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Hereford, majority whip, said the bill mirrors language based on 2013 legislation passed in North Carolina ensuring students’ ability to create a readable cursive document by fifth grade.

According to the National Convention of State Legislatures, this year 11 states are considering similar legislation. So far six other states have passed bills requiring cursive be taught.

Arizona is on track to be next.

The measure passed the Senate in February by a 25-4 vote. On Wednesday, the bill passed its first committee hearing in the House of Representatives by a 5-1 vote.

Griffin is optimistic the bill will also pass the House.

“As much as I hate mandates, I think this should be included as a basic item taught in our schools for our children,” she said. “To loose this and not teach it to our students is doing a disservice to our children and grandchildren.”

More and more people are turning to computers, iPads, tablets and smartphones to communicate instead of the old fashion pen and pad approach.

Griffin said technology is an important learning tool but schools still need to cover the basics. That means being able to sign your signature on a contract or check, read our country’s founding documents like the Constitution and other hand written records.

She explained that computers are able to calculate, multiply, divide but teaching standards still require students learn mathematics in school. Handwriting shouldn’t be any different.

Studies show that cursive benefits students in more ways than just being able to read grandma’s message in your birthday card and write a fancy signature.

Those benefits include improved neural pathways in the brain, mental efficiency, memory, focus, creativity and individuality.

Dr. Virginia Berninger, a research professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, reported cursive writing improves the interaction of the left and right cerebral hemispheres of the brain that specifically involve thinking, language and working memory.

Additional reasons to learn cursive are improved spelling, reading and fine motor skills, according to Gayna Scott, chairwoman for Campaign for Cursive, a nonprofit group advocating for cursive education.

She supports Griffin’s bill because she is concerned about the effects of a generation not learning how to read or write cursive.

Charles Tack, public information officer for the State Board of Education, explained cursive requirements have slowly disappeared from the Arizona teaching standards.

“As we get further and further into an age where technology is the dominant force, you see it start slipping away more and more because there is not a requirement,” he added.

Griffin said the schools in her district admitted to not teaching cursive because it is not part of Arizona College and Career Ready Standards, which closely follows requirements in Common Core standards.

Some people disagreed with the process.

“Our only concern is putting it into statute,” said Stacey Morley from the Arizona Education Association, who opposes the bill. “We would like to see it be a part of the standards process.”

Karol Schmidt, Board of Education’s executive director, said that state is drafting language that puts cursive back into the standards.

Griffin said the flexibility of the bill allows the state board and school districts to determine what grade to start teaching cursive as long as students can produce legible cursive documents by fifth grade.

How cursive will be taught in the classroom is unclear.

Sarah Harper, media representative for the Arizona Board of Regents, said Arizona’s three public universities — ASU, NAU and UA — currently do not offer cursive programs for students studying to become teachers.

Scott said the biggest pushback on the bill came from younger teachers who don’t know how to teach cursive or balance it with other curriculum requirements.

Harper added that students are exposed to various English Language Arts standards throughout their studies to prepare them to teach effective writing skills.

District 10 Sen. David Bradley, D-Tucson, remembers how he learned cursive growing up.

“I can picture all my grade school teachers, particularly Sister Mary Cecily, telling me that I had to end every word in an up stroke so that at the end of every word I was pointing up to the heavens thanking God I was privileged enough to get an education,” he said.

David McGlothlin is the Bolles Fellow from the University of Arizona covering the Legislature for Arizona Sonora News. Reach him at dmcglothlin@email.arizona.edu.


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