Education

Local school leaders think cursive should be taught. But they don’t want unfunded mandate.

Is cursive still relevant?

Legislation has passed in the Illinois House that would require all Illinois public elementary and high schools to have a unit on cursive writing.
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Legislation has passed in the Illinois House that would require all Illinois public elementary and high schools to have a unit on cursive writing.

In preparation for Mother’s Day, third-graders at Roosevelt Elementary School recently learned how to write a few of the capital cursive letters that they’ll need for poems for their moms, including “H” and “M.”

But beyond a handwritten message, their teacher, Shelly Schaefer, said practicing cursive writing in elementary school will be valuable later in life.

“They’re going to need it to be able to sign their name on a check or any official documents, so that’s important,” Schaefer said. “... Also, all of our historical documents are written in cursive, so they need to be able to read it.”

Some metro-east schools, like Roosevelt Elementary in Belleville, already include cursive writing in the curriculum. But legislation that has passed in the Illinois House would require all public elementary schools and high schools to have a unit on cursive writing.

Schools wouldn’t receive additional money from the state to implement the lessons, which is why State Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville, said he voted against the bill.

“We don’t give them any more money, but every year, we throw mandates on our schools,” Meier said previously. “When is there enough mandates? ... We are micromanaging everything. ... If the parents want cursive writing, they should tell their district ... tell them what programs they want to see in their schools.”

It’s interesting with all of the other things that are going on or not going on in the state ... that cursive writing would take center stage.

Matt Klosterman, Belleville District 118 superintendent

The potential new unfunded mandate to teach cursive writing comes as Illinois schools are waiting for lawmakers to pass a budget after nearly two years without one. School funding reform is among the issues tied to budget discussions.

The state is also late in sending reimbursements to schools this year for costs like transportation and special-education services. Roosevelt’s school district, Belleville District 118, is owed an estimated $2.7 million after receiving one of four payments, according to Superintendent Matt Klosterman.

“It’s interesting with all of the other things that are going on or not going on in the state — and in particular with education, especially things like funding challenges and all of that — it’s interesting that cursive writing would take center stage,” he said.

Klosterman said teaching children to read and write in cursive is important, but “we have seemingly bigger things to deal with.”

Belleville District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier thinks local school boards should continue deciding whether to add cursive writing to the curriculum.

“The issues that should be legislated are student-safety issues or civil-rights issues,” Dosier said. “... In a professional life and in social life, I think the written form of communication is very important. I just don’t think it should be legislated.”

If the legislation takes effect, it would require a change in District 201 schools. In Belleville East and Belleville West high schools, cursive writing isn’t taught in classrooms, and students largely aren’t asked to use it. Instead of paper and pencils, they’re using computers and keyboards to do their work, according to Dosier.

Schaefer was previously a District 201 School Board member. She said the board didn’t include cursive writing in the curriculum during the more than seven years she was elected to serve, and that is “a sign of the times.”

“I think it’s foolish in high school to be taking time out of their day to teach them cursive writing,” she said. “That’s my honest opinion. There are so many other things that they need to learn about.”

Schaefer said there are time constraints for teachers at the elementary level, too. Roosevelt Elementary spread out its lessons on lower case and capital cursive letters over third and fourth grade after the state rolled out its new standards.

“You can’t get it all in,” Schaefer said. “Language arts is a big 90-minute block of our time. ... And it’s not that the Common Core standards, Illinois State Standards are any harder. It’s just we have to spend a lot of time making sure that they understand them.”

In a professional life and in social life, I think the written form of communication is very important. I just don’t think it should be legislated.

Jeff Dosier, Belleville District 201 superintendent

Klosterman said District 118 schools are also trying to give students time to practice on Chromebook laptops and other devices for the state tests they’ll take electronically.

In East St. Louis, schools have incorporated new technology into the lessons on cursive writing, according to District 189 spokeswoman Sydney Stigge-Kaufman.

“Some students practice cursive writing on iPads through our digital curriculum platform,” she said in an email to the News-Democrat.

But Stigge-Kaufman said the “primary emphasis” of the English and language arts curriculum is on meeting the Illinois State Standards.

Smithton District 130 Superintendent Sue Homes also thinks the decision to teach cursive writing should be left to local school districts.

Like in District 118, Homes said Smithton Elementary School introduces cursive writing to third-grade students. But she said Principal Vicki Norton is planning to work with the intermediate grade levels to increase exposure to cursive writing next year.

“This decision was a result of input from our parents — not from state legislators,” Homes said via email.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

Reporter Dana Rieck contributed to this report.

How they voted

Here’s how Southern Illinois representatives voted in the April 26 roll call on cursive writing House Bill 2977:

  • Rep. Dan Beiser (D-Alton) — Yes
  • Rep. Jerry Costello II (D-Smithton) — Yes
  • Rep. LaToya Greenwood (D-East St. Louis) — Yes
  • Rep. Jay Hoffman, Assistant Majority Leader of the House Democratic Caucus (D-Swansea) — Yes
  • Rep. Charles Meier (R-Okawville) — No
  • Rep. Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville) — Yes
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