Philadelphia Schools Debate Value of Cursive Writing


Before members of the Philadelphia City Council agree to give the school district the $105 million in funding they are seeking this year, they are asking for schools to include cursive writing as a mandatory part of curriculum.

“I want to go on the record and say in capital letters with exclamation points, cursive writing should be mandatory,” at-large Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown said. “Children need to sign their names. We need to be able to read signatures.”

Schools in Pennsylvania have followed the Common Core curriculum since 2010, which does not require that students in public schools learn to write in cursive.  However, the new Pennsylvania Core standards were implemented last year, which leaves the teaching of cursive handwriting up to individual districts, writes Evan Grossman for Watchdog.

Although schools in the state do not require that its students learn to write in cursive, Chief Academic Support Officer Donyall Dickey maintains that the practice is still integral to the curriculum in the early grades.  Students are not given a grade on their ability to write in cursive.

Meanwhile, District 3 Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell would like to see the learning of cursive in public schools in the district become mandatory.  Dickey said a discussion on the issue would be welcomed by the district.

“Let me say that is not acceptable,” Blackwell shot back. “Having a discussion just isn’t good enough. We would expect that by the time we finish our budget deliberation that we may have a specific, affirmative answer to this issue.”

According to Dickey, as the use of technology in public schools increases, the need for students to learn how to write in cursive diminishes.  Dickey went on to say that more and more young students are using tablets or laptops when they have a need for writing in the classroom.

School officials argue that should cursive writing be added to the curriculum, any adjustments that need to be made would cost the already cash-strapped district more money.  They say that classroom time would be taken away from students that could be spent on other subjects.

However, Joy Pullman of the Heartland Institute writes that learning to write in cursive develops a portion of a child’s brain that writing on computers does not.  The practice has been used as a therapy method for students with dyslexia and other learning disabilities.

Having over 85% of students in the district coming from low-income families, the district could greatly benefit from adding cursive writing to its mandatory curriculum.

“If cursive is not mandatory across the state, the kids who tend to lose out are the poorer kids who need the most brain development assistance they can get,” Pullman said. “They aren’t getting that at home and the more the school can do to benefit them, the better.”