POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Aug 1, 2011
At Hawaii public schools, cursive writing could be going the way of the abacus.
New national education standards that Hawaii is rolling out this school year don't require that students learn cursive, though several principals said it will continue to be taught at their discretion.
The potential loss of cursive in schools worries some parents, who say modern students should still learn the script, even if they use computers and other digital devices for much of their writing.
"I think it's going to be a bad thing," said Marguerite Higa, treasurer of Parents for Public Schools. "I'm generally concerned about the lack of attention to motor skill development in kids. If they don't practice (cursive) at school, I don't know where they're going to learn it."
Hawaii public school standards, which are being replaced by the national ones, do spell out that students should be able to write legibly and fluently in cursive by the fourth grade.
In the national common core standards, keyboarding instruction takes the place of cursive.
Petra Schatz, Department of Education language arts educational specialist, said though cursive is not in the new standards, it isn't likely to go away entirely.
"I'm sure that some teachers will still be addressing handwriting, and some will still be addressing cursive," she said. "There's a lot that happens in the classroom that may fall outside the standards document."
The discussion of the utility of cursive in the 21st century is a hot one nationally, as states begin to roll out common core standards and look to prepare tech-savvy students for a competitive work force.
Forty-four states and the District of Columbia have adopted the common core standards, aimed at providing students with a rigorous K-12 experience that stresses critical thinking and inquiry.
Some Hawaii schools said cursive has already taken a back seat in classrooms as teachers work to implement tougher standards and reach rising goals for the percentage of students proficient in reading and math.
"For our school we don't concentrate so much on cursive," said Laura Ahn, principal at Kalihi Uka Elementary, which has consistently met adequate yearly progress goals for reading and math under the federal No Child Left Behind law. "We have more important things to worry about."
But others said cursive remains in their classrooms — and will continue to be taught.
"Students need to learn cursive by the end of third grade," said Ruth Silberstein, principal at Palolo Elementary School, which also met NCLB student proficiency goals this year. "I bring it up with the teachers. You still have to teach cursive — keyboarding as well as cursive."
Several national experts have raised concerns about the lack of a cursive requirement in the common core. Historical documents, they point out, are in cursive. And many college courses still require handwritten, in-class exams.
Others note that cursive handwriting helps brain development.
Steve Graham, an education professor at Vanderbilt University who focuses on special education, literacy and writing development, said students need to be able to write "legibly and fluently."
The discussion, he added, shouldn't be about the disappearance of cursive, but of handwriting.
"The primary issue is we don't want handwriting to disappear," he said. "If we're going to live in a hybrid world, we need to be fluent in both" handwriting and keyboarding.