Majority of Private Schools in Indiana Teach Cursive, While Public Schools Lag Behind

A recent statewide survey reveals that while the majority of students in private schools in Indiana are still learning cursive writing, a significantly smaller percentage of public schools in the state currently include cursive instruction for younger students.

The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) conducted a survey of 1,770 schools in Indiana this fall. Out of the 1,386 schools that responded, it was found that 91% of state-accredited non-public schools teach cursive writing, whereas only 52% of public schools reported teaching it.

This survey is part of an ongoing effort led by Republican Sen. Jean Leising to reintroduce cursive writing in Hoosier schools. Sen. Leising stated that the survey data indicates that many Hoosier students attending public schools are at a “clear disadvantage,” and she vowed to renew her legislative efforts to make cursive instruction mandatory.

“For more than a decade, I have been a staunch advocate for cursive writing in the Indiana General Assembly. My initial concerns were focused on ensuring that our children could sign their names on legal documents and read historical texts, but it has now evolved beyond that,” said Leising in a statement on Monday. “They need to possess the necessary fine motor skills and cognitive abilities to succeed academically and professionally, and learning cursive writing can only further support their development.”

Opponents argue that cursive writing is less relevant in an era of technology and online work, and that schools should instead prioritize teaching typing skills. However, Leising believes that cursive writing is equally important and that moving away from handwriting curriculum may hinder student learning abilities.

Is cursive writing making a comeback?

The “Cursive Writing Survey” was sent out between August and September to all schools and corporations that teach grades K-6. Local administrators were given until October 1st to submit their responses.

Approximately 78% of all schools participated in the IDOE survey. Out of the 1,386 respondent schools, 80.4% were traditional public schools, 16.7% were state-accredited non-public schools, and 2.9% were charter schools.

Of the schools that responded to the survey, 58.4% (equivalent to 809 schools) reported that they currently offer cursive writing instruction in their classrooms. In most schools where cursive is taught, the instruction predominantly takes place in grades two through four. Grade three is where the majority of the instruction is concentrated, according to the IDOE analysis.

However, cursive writing is more commonly taught in private schools as compared to public schools.

Out of the 230 non-public schools that participated in the survey, 210 reported that they teach cursive writing. In contrast, out of the 1,110 traditional public schools that responded to the survey, 580 reported current cursive instruction.

However, it’s important to note that the survey does not provide a conclusive picture as 384 K-6 schools in Indiana did not respond. Additionally, the public report does not specify which schools participated, making it unclear how many students are represented in the study.

Leising’s efforts to bring back cursive

Cursive writing has not been a required part of the curriculum in Indiana’s public schools since 2010, and Sen. Leising has been working to change that for years.

During the 2023 legislative session, her Senate Bill 72 originally proposed making cursive writing curriculum mandatory for traditional public and charter elementary schools in the state.

However, Leising modified the final version of the bill to instead require schools to report to the state education department whether they include cursive writing in their curriculum. The IDOE was assigned the task of creating a report with this information.

Throughout the session, Leising argued that many private schools in Indiana teach cursive writing, while the majority of public schools do not.

This week, Sen. Leising once again referenced research indicating that writing in cursive stimulates activity in specific areas of the brain associated with memory and encoding new information, which she believes is crucial for early childhood learning. Other studies cited by Leising demonstrate that children who write in cursive have better reading and writing skills compared to those who do not.

“While lawmakers address issues of literacy during the 2024 legislative session, I plan to join this initiative by advocating for the inclusion of cursive writing in the curriculum. Various studies have shown that knowing how to write in cursive aids in information retention and comprehension, which supports the development of reading and writing skills,” Leising said. “It is evident that our students require support now more than ever to establish a solid foundation in reading, comprehension, and writing for their future success.”

Critics of mandatory cursive instruction argue that students already have a heavy workload with various subjects, and they would be better served by focusing on typing and coding skills instead.

The decline in cursive instruction in public schools can be attributed to the Common Core standards, which were adopted by most states and did not include cursive in the recommended curriculum. Nonetheless, supporters of cursive instruction have made progress in reintroducing it based on studies that have shown a connection between cursive and cognitive abilities. Cursive has also been found to be beneficial for students with reading and writing disabilities such as dyslexia and dysgraphia.

Indiana is not the only state seeking to bring back cursive writing. Currently, at least 22 states require cursive to be taught as part of the public school curriculum, according to the National Education Association, and this number is increasing.

In October, California passed a law unanimously — signed by Governor Gavin Newsom — that mandates the teaching of cursive or “joined italics” handwriting in grades one through six.

Earlier this year, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu signed a bill requiring schools to teach cursive as well as multiplication tables.

Indiana lawmakers will reconvene at the Statehouse next month for a non-budget session. While cursive instruction is not listed as a priority for 2024, initiatives focused on literacy, particularly in grade three, are expected to be the key education policy efforts.

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