Flipping the Script To combat illegibility, cursive making a comeback

Dear Friends,

A very informative and excellent article in the Dallas Morning News on (Wednesday April 5, 2017).  “Flipping the Script To combat illegibility, cursive making a comeback”

Dear teacher, thank you for teaching me how to write in cursive.

Yes, you read that correctly: One of the oldest human technologies — handwriting — is mounting a comeback.

Once a fixture in American classrooms, the ancient art of looping letters together began falling out of favor decades ago. It was nearly wiped out by the advent of modern technology, which made penmanship a decreasing classroom priority.

Cursive writing took another blow when most states adopted Common Core curriculum standards, which no longer required teaching it in public schools. Why? Because it takes precious time away from other subjects deemed more crucial in a world ruled by computers, laptops and smartphones.

Slowly but surely, however, penmanship is returning. Two states, Alabama and Louisiana, passed laws last year mandating that cursive writing be taught in public schools. That brings the total to at least 14 states, including Texas, that require proficiency in cursive writing.

Last fall, the nation’s largest public school system, up in New York City, rekindled the teaching of cursive writing. How the Big Apple got back on the bandwagon is intriguing, a lesson in both history and perseverance.

A New York state lawmaker, Nicole Malliotakis, was dumbfounded at a teenager’s inability to sign his name at a voter registration event. Instead, the 18-year-old printed his John Hancock in block letters. “That is my signature,” he said. “I never learned script.”

The Staten Island Republican took her concerns to education officials, who, wisely, charted a new course.

New York Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina dished out a handbook on teaching cursive and urged principals to use it. The manuals cite research “suggesting that fluent cursive helps students master writing tasks such as spelling and sentence construction because they don’t have to think as much about forming letters.”

Other research suggests learning to read and write in cursive can boost performance in other areas, too.

Yet, while researchers continue to debate cognitive and spill-over benefits from learning cursive, we were struck by a powerful, if plaintive, observation from Malliotakis: Students who aren’t trained in cursive won’t be able to readily digest many original historical documents.

“If an American student cannot read the Declaration of Independence, that is sad,” Malliotakis said.

We agree, although we also acknowledge that the hand-wringing over handwriting is overwrought in one respect: Few experts doubt that cursive writing will ever vanish; it’s simply too ingrained in our culture.

But what will it look like?

“When we don’t teach penmanship, the result is an ugly, unaesthetic and illegible script,” Steven Roger Fischer, a script expert and author of A History of Writing, once wrote in an article for Slate. “Ugliness is unimportant. Aesthetics are unimportant to many people. But illegibility defeats the purpose of writing. There must be a standard.”

So let it be written. And let it be done, please … in the classroom.

 

Respectfully,

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com

Bills’ Aim Is Help For Dyslexia

 

Dear Friends,

Dyslexia is “near and dear” to my heart. My oldest son fell through the cracks with unidentified dyslexia. In 1984 I helped facilitate the passage of the first dyslexia law in Texas and the United States. This is a very informative article on dyslexia. Written by Julie Fancher, SMU graduate, reporter and staff writer for the Dallas Morning News.

Three dyslexia-related bills are pending in the Texas House, including one aimed at securing long sought-after funding for a decades-old law that requires public school districts and charter schools to identify and remediate students who have the common learning disability.

Rep. Rick Miller, R-Fort Bend, sponsored the bills, which address the licensing of dyslexia therapists, dyslexia testing for students and training for teachers, as well as the one dealing with funding.

This is Miller’s second attempt at trying to secure financing for a 1985 law — the first of its kind in the nation — that requires public school districts and charter schools to identify and provide remediation for students with dyslexia. A bill Miller filed last year that would have done that died in committee.

The current bill would allow districts to be entitled to “an annual allotment equal to the district’s adjusted basic allotment,” the bill said.

“We told the schools they need to do something to help these children who have dyslexia to identify them and work with them,” Miller said. “About 1 in 5 people are affected [with dyslexia], so we are trying to match up a requirement to help these children.”

But Miller cautioned that the Legislature’s tight budget might pose some problems.

“What we are looking at from a budget perspective is not healthy or robust like two years ago,” he said. “This might be more difficult this time around, but we will see if we can get support because it’s there. It exists, and these children have this issue, so we should be dealing with it in an effective way.”

Funding has long been sought to boost the mandated dyslexia programs in public and charter schools. But the way that dyslexia services are provided in schools complicates the funding process.

In Texas, dyslexia services are offered through general education, and accommodations are delivered through Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. In many other states, dyslexia services are offered through special education, since dyslexia is identified as a specific learning disability in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA).

However, dyslexia experts said that because federal guidelines to qualify for special education are so strict, many students with mild to moderate dyslexia were not being served.

“At that time, special education utilized a discrepancy model for the identification of children with learning disabilities,” said Gladys Kolenovsky, the administrative director of the Luke Waites Center for Dyslexia and Learning Disabilities at Scottish Rite Hospital, who helped write the state’s dyslexia law back in 1985. “What it meant was that particularly bright children, children whose parents worked with them every night, or children who had tutoring support did not fall far enough behind to be identified for special education — and federal dollars — until the third or fourth grade.

So in 1985, the Texas Legislature passed the nation’s first dyslexia law offering services through general education, which allowed more students to be served, Kolenovsky said.

But because Texas schools offer dyslexia services through general education programs, they do not have access to federal dollars. Instead, to fund those mandated services, districts and charter schools must pull from their limited general education funds. One exception is those students who qualify for special education and can receive federal funds.

District officials say the lack of funds is making it difficult to implement the best programs and hire trained teachers. Numbers analyzed by The Dallas Morning News last year showed local districts were falling behind in identifying and providing help for students.

Roxanne Burchfiel, Plano ISD’s coordinator of reading and dyslexia services, praised Miller’s funding bill, calling it “desperately needed.”

“As of now, districts do not have any extra funding and all dyslexia services are funded through district resources,” Burchfiel said by email. “This bill is desperately needed, especially since Texas has such a strong dyslexia law with mandates and requirements, but the state doesn’t provide any funding support for personnel, training, testing, or materials.”

The bill related to funding, House Bill 868, has been referred to the public education committee. The licensing bill, House Bill 1331, has been forwarded to the public health committee. No hearing has been held yet on either bil.

The third bill, House Bill 1886, was filed Feb. 23 and has not been taken up in committee yet.

Some parents said they were concerned that the licensing bills could be too costly and too difficult and could end up lowering the number of dyslexia therapists.

Burchfiel said she thought requiring a dyslexia therapist license would be “difficult to attain for all public school districts.”

Burchfiel noted that that license would require a master’s degree and at least 700 hours of supervised experience. It currently takes two years, 200 hours and 10 demonstration lessons to become a specialist.

“Realistically, many of our trained and competent specialists can never acquire 700 hours of instructional practice and may not be able to complete a master’s program for a myriad of reasons,” she said. “A more manageable requirement would be the dyslexia practitioner license, which would only require a bachelor’s degree and 60 hours of supervised experience.”

Miller acknowledged that it’s still early in the process, but he remains resolute.

“The issue has not changed, and it’s still important,” he said.

Respectfully,

 

Tincy Miller

SBOE, District 12

tincymiller35@gmail.com

www.tincymiller.com