BY MICHAEL WALTON
---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Keyboards and computer lessons are replacing cursive handwriting and penmanship instruction at public schools in the Grand Traverse region.
Officials from districts in Leelanau, Kalkaska, Benzie and Grand Traverse counties all said elementary school teachers are placing far less emphasis on penmanship in general and — cursive in particular — than they were a decade ago.
”About the only time we use cursive around here is to sign a check,” said Jason Stowe, superintendent of Leland Public School.
Stowe noticed a decrease in cursive and handwriting instruction as computers and other digital devices became more common in classrooms.
This movement away from cursive is reflected in the National Governors Association’s Common Core education standards.
The Michigan Board of Education in June 2010 adopted Common Core, which so far outlines uniform student expectations for math and language arts only. The standards include proficiency in computer keyboarding by the fourth grade, but do not mention cursive writing ability.
But common core standards are only a guide, not a mandated curriculum. Districts and schools that want to continue teaching cursive are free to do so, like Leelanau County’s Glen Lake Elementary School.
“(Common Core) is your foundation and your basis,” Glen Lake Elementary Principal Kim Wright said. “From Common Core you build up other curriculum.”
Glen Lake Elementary students receive cursive instruction in third and fourth grades. The benefits of penmanship and cursive for students range from learning how to hold a pen to developmental growth, Wright said.
And students shouldn’t rely on always having access to digital devices.
“What about just writing a note to somebody? There is still a use for sticky notes, isn’t there?” Wright said. “I think you have to find a balance. I don’t think you can swing all one way or the other. At least not yet.”
Cursive also is still taught at Benzie County’s Crystal Lake Elementary School. Principal LeeAnn Stephan said most of her school’s students know how to write in cursive by the time they leave fourth grade.
But that might change as the school continues to incorporate Common Core standards into its classrooms.
Stephan said there is value in students being able to read and write in cursive, but keyboarding and typing are the “wave of the future.” The issue largely comes down to how officials want to allocate valuable classroom time.
“If you spend too much time on cursive, you are losing time for other things,” Stephan said.
Lee Sandy, superintendent of Kalkaska Public Schools, agreed.
“I don’t know if it’s a necessary skill anymore,” Sandy said of cursive. “Unless you extend the school day, it’s a time issue, too.”
Kalkaska’s Birch Street Elementary instructs students in general handwriting, but not cursive.
Principal Rik Ponstein said one student’s grandparent complained about cursive’s absence from school curriculum about five years ago. Most parents and grandparents are more worried about whether their children can read and write and do math, he said.
Traverse City Area Public Schools officials disagreed about the state of cursive in the area’s largest school district.
Biz Ruskowski, a language arts curriculum support specialist at TCAPS, said whether students learn cursive varies from building to building and classroom to classroom. Some buildings don’t teach cursive, she said.
But TCAPS Associate Superintendent Jayne Mohr said all district students are exposed to cursive starting in third grade.
Both officials agreed that keyboarding and computing is becoming a more important part of the student experience. Pupils start learning keyboarding in kindergarten, even in pre-kindergarten programs in some cases. They also start learning how to research online and take portions of tests online at early ages.
“This whole discussion is on communication and how we are communicating, and it’s not necessarily through cursive anymore,” Ruskowski said.