Bring back cursive in all public schools


Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin put his signature on money in print, not cursive script, and the nation got a little chuckle. But there’s actually a valuable lesson behind the jokes about his signature: Cursive instruction in our city’s public schools — which has, regrettably, over many years now, gone away — is finally starting to return.

This is great news, even — in fact especially — in an era when we are increasingly embracing technology, science and math education, and in which kids increasingly text, tweet and use Snapchat rather than writing anything down.

Here’s why.

It’s not crazy to think of handwriting in general, and cursive in particular, as antiquated skills not needed in today’s digital world. That’s exactly the logic that led the Department of Education to drop handwriting instruction from its curriculum around 2010 when it adopted the Common Core learning standards.

But it turns out that handwriting, both cursive and manuscript, is a foundational skill that’s crucial to literacy. Numerous studies have shown that the process of learning to properly write letters by hand in print or cursive plays a vital role in students’ academic success.

As an educational consultant who works side by side with New York City schoolteachers in their classrooms to raise student achievement, I have seen the effects when children don’t get direct instruction in handwriting.

They don’t know how to hold a pencil. They have difficulty forming letters. They don’t have an efficient way of getting ideas down on paper.

Most to the point, they aren’t nearly as good as they should be at thinking through and articulating their ideas.

This has proven to be directly related to never having learned the mechanics of writing by hand.

A 2012 white paper by Saperstein Associates summarized multiple research studies presented at a national handwriting summit. In general, the studies support the belief that the use of handwriting aids students’ cognitive development and overall academic achievement.

Some of the research, for example, explored how the process of writing by hand requires higher neurological activity, which helps develop cognitive skills like thinking, reasoning, learning, remembering and understanding.

The research also showed how handwriting helps children develop their fine motor skills, skills that are necessary for daily tasks such as tying shoes, using scissors and buttoning coats.

Moreover, handwriting has been shown to influence students’ reading ability. The initial stage of learning to read involves letter recognition. When students repeatedly write letters by hand, they learn them more easily, which in turn prepares the brain for reading.

Some studies have shown that handwriting produces better results than typing words on a keyboard. Elementary age students who wrote compositions by hand, for example, wrote faster, wrote longer pieces and expressed more ideas than students who typed.

And although we may think taking notes on a laptop is most efficient, students tend to remember better when they take notes by hand. Maybe that’s because students who take notes by hand are less likely to transcribe verbatim and more likely to process and reframe the information, resulting in better comprehension and retention.

Cursive in particular has been shown to bolster the speed and ease at which students write, leaving more brain function for higher-level needs such as planning, content development, sentence construction and critical thinking.

Cursive has also been shown to help children with dyslexia, dysgraphia and other oral and written language disabilities.

Simply put, there’s an important connection between handwriting and learning.

There’s a final, plainly pragmatic reason to bring back handwriting instruction: Students in New York still take most standardized tests with pen and paper. Performing well on these timed tests is extremely difficult for children who can’t write quickly, legibly and efficiently.

Most experts say 10 to 15 minutes a day is all that’s needed to spend on handwriting instruction. New York City schools have taken a big step in the right direction by reintroducing cursive instruction into the third-grade curriculum. It’s such a simple way of giving our kids every chance possible to succeed in school, and in life.