Good and Bad News
May 10, 2012
© Melissa Taylor
I’ve got good news and bad news.
Let's start with the good news, shall we? Hip-hip-hooray, it’s Children’s Book Week, May 7 - 13!
You'll want to celebrate so here are my suggestions:
First, peruse the 2012 winners of the Children’s Book Council Choice Awards. Then read some of the award-winning books to your children.
Then, pretend every week is Children’s Book Week! You can . . .
- read instead of watching television
- host a book swap with friends
- pick an author and read all of his or her books (suggestions on Scholastic site, Book Wizard)
- write a letter to your favorite author
- find new books on a book blog (good blogs: Jen’s Book Page, There’s a Book, On Our Minds @Scholastic, Imagination Soup, Great Kid Books, Reader Totz, Lit Lad, Book Dads, and The Children's Book Review.)
Now for the bad news.
The Washington D.C. School District is cutting almost 50 librarians from their public schools. This will save money, yes-- but can this be good for children?
I asked Carol Rasco, Reading Is Fundamental President and CEO. She explained to me that just having access to books, aka. no librarian, doesn't help student achievement. To improve children's reading skills, a librarian needs to be available to students, especially those in lower-income schools. (Peck, 2000; Celano and Neuman, 2008) In fact, Rasco shared with me Keith Curry Lance’s research which concludes that the presence of librarians contributes to reading achievement.
At this point, however, there is a clear consensus in the results now available for
eight states: School libraries are a powerful force in the lives of America’s children. The
school library is one of the few factors whose contribution to academic achievement has
been documented empirically, and it is a contribution that cannot be explained away by
other powerful influences on student performance. - Keith Curry Lance
Back to D.C. and Carol Rasco. "Five years ago as Reading Is Fundamental approached our 40th anniversary," recounts Rasco, "we learned of the difficulty DCPS administrators were having in conducting the RIF program in this district where RIF was founded. As an anniversary gift to the children of this district, RIF assumed the leadership of the program, working closely with individual school sites through a site-based designated teacher or administrator. It has been an “on the job” lesson for all affiliated with RIF on the critical need for a literacy emphasis for students in this district. DC fourth graders’ most recent NAEP results (2011) show 56% to be below BASIC (http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pdf/dst2011/2012455.pdf)."
So you can imagine how devastated Rasco felt when she saw the news about the DC librarian cuts. "To read now of librarians being the target of budget cutting measures is incomprehensible," she wrote me in an email, "particularly since the schools targeted to lose a librarian are those schools where the services of a media specialist/librarian would logically be needed most. Books in a room that will simply be opened for children to enter does not constitute a library, it might be a warehouse only."
DC Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson defended her decision in a recent interview saying she didn't think librarians were helpful to student achievement. "We have pulled away from programs where we haven't received a return on our investment.” Interestingly enough, Chancellor Henderson's actions mimic those of the Department of Education's who cut all federal funding for school libraries in 2011.
Clearly, there's a serious disconnect between the research and the policy makers' actions.
Even if you don't live in Washington D.C. you need to be aware and be very concerned. Here's what I, you, we need to do:
- Fight to save the school libraries, librarians, and the public libraries.
- Find innovative ways to fund school libraries.
- Speak up. Make your voice heard.
Last year in Troy, MI the public library almost closed until a unique ad campaign sparked community outrage -- a Burning Book Party. The campaign worked, the library remained open. Some Troy residents didn't get the satire but I loved the creativity that sparked the outrage against closing the library and burning books.
If it worked in Troy, Michigan, maybe it will work in your neighborhoods, maybe even in Washington D.C.
We need to get creative. If the research isn't compelling policy makers then what will? Do we go with the satire ploy of burning books?
Let's start with that -- what will work?
Comment below with your ideas.
Melissa Taylor is a freelance writer, an award-winning educational blogger at ImaginationSoup, an award-winning teacher with a M.A. in Education, and a mom of two children, ages 6 and 9. Follow Taylor on Twitter or find her on Facebook.
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