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February 6, 2013

Senate advances cursive writing requirement

INDIANAPOLIS — Indiana state Sen. Jean Leising’s push to require the teaching of cursive writing in elementary schools has gotten national attention, including a story last week in the Wall Street Journal.

On Tuesday, that push moved forward as her colleagues in the the state Senate approved her legislation that would reverse the state Department of Education’s decision to make cursive writing optional.

Now the legislation moves on to the state House, where it died last year.

“People will come up to me and say, ‘Thanks for working on that cursive writing bill,’” said Leising, a Republican from Oldenburg. “And I have to tell them, ‘It’s not a done deal yet.’”

Leising’s legislation to mandate cursive writing instruction passed through the Senate on a 36-13 vote. Among the bill’s  supporters is Democrat state Sen. Tim Skinner, a retired school teacher from Terre Haute.

“Most elementary teachers recognize the importance of this,” Skinner said during discussion on the bill. To bill opponents who said the state shouldn’t be mandating what’s taught in local schools, Skinner said: “If you’re afraid of mandates you probably ought to get out the legislature.”

State Sen. Earline Rogers, a Democrat from Gary and retired school teacher, voted against the bill. “I think we ought to leave decisions about curriculum to those who deal with it daily,” she said.

The Indiana Department of Education dropped its cursive writing requirement in 2011, after the State Board of Education voted to adopt Common Core State Standards. The Common Core standards require elementary school students to be proficient in computer keyboarding, but not in cursive writing.

The state DOE gave local school districts the option of keeping or dropping cursive writing instruction for their students.

Leising’s legislation, Senate Bill 120, restores the cursive requirement.

In advocating for the bill, Leising cited studies that have connected the ability to write in cursive to a child’s cognitive development.

She also pulled out several small posters, created by some fifth-graders in Columbus, Ind., that listed reasons why they thought it was important to learn cursive writing. Signing their name on documents was among the reasons they listed.

Leising has earned wide attention for the bill. The national Campaign for Cursive, launched by cursive-writing supporters, called attention to her legislation last month as part of its recogniton of National Handwriting Day.

She was also quoted in a Jan. 30 story in the Wall Street Journal about the demise of cursive writing requirements in schools in other states.

Leising told the Wall Street Journal that more than 90 percent  of the 1,000 constituents she surveyed in her rural district in southeast Indiana said they favored teaching cursive.

Maureen Hayden covers the Indiana Statehouse for the CNHI newspapers in Indiana. She can be reached at maureen.hayden@indianamediagroup.com.

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