Most Indiana Private Schools Teach Cursive, Compared to Roughly Half of Publics

The IDOE survey results provide the state’s first cursive writing census and prompted one lawmaker call for more instruction.

This is a photo of a student writing in cursive

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A new statewide survey shows that although most Hoosier kids attending private schools are continuing to learn cursive, far fewer Indiana public schools currently teach the writing style to younger students.

The Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) surveyed 1,770 schools across Indiana this fall. Of the 1,386 respondents, 91% of state-accredited non-public schools are teaching cursive writing, but only 52% of public schools reported teaching it.

The survey was part of an ongoing, yearslong push to bring cursive writing back to Hoosier schools, spearheaded by Republican Sen. Jean Leising. She said the new survey data indicates that many Hoosier students attending public schools are at a “clear disadvantage,” and vowed to renew her legislative efforts to require cursive instruction.

“I have been an unwavering proponent of cursive writing in the Indiana General Assembly for more than a decade. My concerns originally centered around making sure our children could sign their names on legal documents and read historical texts, but it is now much larger than that,” Leising said in a statement Monday. “They need to have the necessary motor skills and strong cognitive ability to succeed academically and professionally, and learning cursive writing can only further support their development.”

“Opponents of cursive writing say schools should focus more on teaching typewriting skills in an evolving age of technology and online work,” she continued. “I argue, cursive is equally important, and we risk limiting development of student’s learning abilities by moving away from essential handwriting curriculum.”

Writing on the walls?

The “Cursive Writing Survey” was sent out in August and September to all schools and corporations teaching grades K-6. Local administrators had until Oct. 1 to submit their responses.

About 78% of all schools participated in the IDOE survey. Of the 1,386 schools that reported, 80.4% were traditional public schools, 16.7% were state accredited non-public schools, and 2.9% were charter schools.

Of those schools that responded to the survey, 58.4% — equal to 809 schools — reported that cursive writing instruction is taking place in their classrooms. In the majority of schools where cursive is taught, instruction is primarily administered to students in grades two through four. A majority of the instruction takes place in grade three, according to the IDOE analysis.

Cursive is more commonly taught in private schools, though.

Of the 230 non-public schools that responded to the survey, 210 reported that cursive writing instruction is taking place. To compare, 580 out of the 1,110 traditional public schools that responded to the survey reported current cursive instruction.

Still, the survey is not totally conclusive, given that 384 K-6 schools across Indiana did not respond. The public report also doesn’t indicate which schools participates — leaving it unclear how many students are represented in the study.

Leising wants cursive back

Cursive writing hasn’t been required in Indiana’s public schools since 2010 — something Leising, R-Oldenburg, has been working to change for years.

During the 2023 legislative session, her Senate Bill 72 originally required traditional public and charter elementary schools to include some form of cursive writing curriculum for the state’s younger students.

Leising — who has filed similar bills in the last decade to no avail — pared down the final version of the measure to instead require schools to report to the state education department about whether cursive writing is part of the curriculum there. The IDOE was tasked with creating a report with that information.

Leising maintained during the session that many private schools in Indiana are teaching the writing style, but the majority of public schools are not.

This week, the senator again pointed to research showing that writing in cursive heightens activity in certain parts of the brain tied to memory and encoding new information, which she reiterated” is integral to early childhood learning.” Other studies cited by Leising show children who wrote in cursive had better reading and writing skills compared to those who didn’t.

“While lawmakers look to tackle literacy during the 2024 legislative session, I plan to join this initiative by also advocating for cursive writing curriculum, since various studies show knowing how to write in cursive helps improve information retention and comprehension abilities — supporting the successful development of reading and writing skills,” Leising said. “It is clear our students need support — now more than ever — to build foundational reading, comprehension and writing skills for their future success.”

Critics of mandatory cursive instruction say students already have too many subjects to master and that they’re better off focusing on typing and coding.

Teaching cursive in public schools waned after the Common Core standards, which most states adopted, didn’t include cursive in the recommended curriculum. Supporters have recently had some success in bringing it back, pointing to studies that show a link between cursive and cognitive abilities, including helping with reading and writing disabilities such as dyslexia and dysgraphia.

Indiana isn’t the only state seeking to bring back cursive writing, however.

At least 22 states currently require cursive to be taught as part of the public school curriculum, according to the National Education Association. And the list is growing.

In October, the California legislature unanimously passed — and Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed — a law requiring the teaching of cursive or “joined italics” handwriting in grades one through six.

Earlier this year, New Hampshire Republican Gov. Chris Sununu additionally signed a bill requiring schools to teach cursive and multiplication tables.

Indiana lawmakers return to the Statehouse next month for a non-budget session. Legislative leaders have not included cursive instruction in their 2024 priorities, but literacy-focused initiatives — especially those affecting grade three — are expected to top education policy efforts.

Indiana Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Indiana Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Niki Kelly for questions: info@indianacapitalchronicle.com. Follow Indiana Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

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