Third-graders may get 15 minutes of cursive practice a couple times a week, and after the fourth grade, it often falls off completely because teachers don't require assignments to be written in cursive. When children write by hand, many choose to print because they've practiced it more.
Dustin Ellis, fourth-grade teacher at Big Springs Elementary School in Simi Valley, said he assigns a cursive practice packet as homework, but if he had his druthers, he'd limit cursive instruction to learning to read it, instead of writing it. Out of his 32 students, just three write in cursive, he noted.
“Students can be just as successful with printing,” he said. “When a kid can text 60 words a minute, that means we're heading in a different direction. Cursive is becoming less and less important.”
It also depends on the teacher. Many younger teachers aren't prepared to teach cursive or manuscript, said Kathleen S. Wright, national handwriting product manager for Zaner-Bloser Publishing, which develops instructional tools.
To remedy that, the company has developed a computer program that shows kids how to form letters.
Students say virtually nobody writes in cursive except teachers and parents. School assignments are required to be typed, and any personal note, such as thank yous and birthday cards, are emails, said Monica Baerg, a 16-year-old junior at Arcadia High School.
Baerg said she learned cursive in third grade, but has never used it and has difficulty deciphering her parents' handwriting. When she has to write by hand, she prints and never has a problem with speed.
“It was kind of a waste. No one ever forced us to use cursive so it was a hassle to remember the letters,” she said. “It's not necessary to write in cursive. Whatever you write in, you say the same thing.”
At St. Mark's Lutheran School in Hacienda Heights, cursive remains a core subject. Students are required to write in cursive through middle school so they become fluent at it, as well as work on computers, but increasingly transfer students arrive without longhand skills, said Linda Merchant, director of curriculum and instruction. They're given a book to study and practice at home.
“We're pretty committed to keeping it,” Merchant said. “There's always going to be situations when you're going to have to present your own writing.”
Graham, the professor, noted that the case for cursive is becoming harder to make, due to the benefits word processing offers such as spellcheck and cutting and pasting text, but he noted there are benefits to ensuring good handwriting. “People form judgments about the quality of your ideas based on the neatness of your text,” he said.
For kids, the only practical purpose for learning cursive is to sign their names.
“They should teach it just for that purpose,” said student Baerg. “Everybody wants a cool signature with all the fancy loops.”