There are many ways to enlarge your child’s world. Love of books is the best of all.
Happy School Library Month to school librarians across the country! We have always known librarians and libraries provide vital support to students and teachers in our public schools. But for years school districts have let go of qualified librarians and they have closed school libraries.
This is often attributed to the growing presence of online learning. In Jacksonville, cuts to school libraries have been fierce with the idea that digital is better and schools must “evolve.”
But there is little research to show that competency-based education (digital learning) or more computer use helps students do well in school. A research study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 2015, indicates that students do better with less screen time not more. The report suggests that when it comes to technology “too many false hopes” have been raised. With so little, if any, research to indicate tech is better, why throw out what we know works?
Adding to this, a new report explains to us what happens when students lose their librarians and libraries. Without decent library services in their public schools, students go on to have great difficulty in college. They don’t have the necessary research skills to gather good information. They are not able to evaluate the importance of what they read.
A report released the other day in the ILA Reporter, “Data Back Up the Headlines: Adding Weight to Advocacy,” by Michelle Guittar and Kelly Grossmann, reviewed the downward spiral of school libraries in the State of Illinois and the Chicago Public School District (CPS). The authors examined the loss of libraries and librarians since 2010 in CPS alone. But this alarming trend can be seen throughout the state.
They also tell why parents should be concerned if their students go to schools that don’t have a good school library or a certified librarian or media specialist.
The authors analyzed an Ethnographic Research in Illinois Academic Libraries (ERIAL) study, conducted at multiple Illinois academic institutions. This included Northeastern Illinois University. They found that those students who don’t have access to a qualified librarian and obtain library skills in their schools go on to experience difficulty with research skills in college. Students struggle with the following:
- Basic information
- Literacy skills
- Doing academic searches
- Evaluating resources
- Getting help from information professionals
Adding concern to this report, it was also just announced that seventeen school districts in Illinois many with low-income students are suing the state for inadequate funding. While the state short-changes schools by cutting programs and staff, they have mandated online school testing. This has meant the purchase of computers and tablets. What proof do we have that this serves students well?
Illinois is not an isolated situation. Schools across the country have been cutting their library services for years. How many students have missed out on vital skills that would help them survive in college and future careers? It is wrong to assume just because students can plug in a word on Google, they will be able to distinguish what is meaningful information and what is junk. It is also poor planning to ignore the importance of books to student learning.
How will students master college coursework if they don’t understand the rudimentary skills of obtaining and evaluating information?
This should not come as a shock to most parents and educators. We’ve known for a long time that schools with good librarians and libraries have students who do better on standardized tests.
In 2011, the California School Library Association looked at 2004—2009 test results and determined that children in schools with credentialed librarians did better on standardized reading tests. They determined that students got better reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) with a gain of librarians in school districts.
The following year, a Colorado study by the same researchers examined reading performance scores between 2005—2011. They found that school librarians had a positive impact on student standardized reading scores when students were poor.
Yet, knowing this, states and local school districts have continued to eliminate librarian positions. And this has been especially prevalent in poor schools, where library services are essential. Many schools no longer have school libraries.
Last year WGBH in Boston reported that “surprisingly” many schools there don’t have functioning school libraries. The problem especially affects young children who are in their formative years and may not learn to value books and reading. This loss extends past Boston across the State of Massachusetts.
However, earlier that year it was reported that technology is a priority in that state. Schools were being outfitted with expensive digital devices. Students were to learn to repair the computers in their schools when they broke down. One public school opened with a price tag of $37.5 million, has wireless projectors, white boards, and laptops and iPads in every classroom — including kindergarten. Students have access to media centers with online ebooks more than books.
Should we not question state and district administrators who have been so quick to jump on the technology bandwagon, cutting funds to school libraries and getting rid of qualified librarians? They have either not understood or ignored the extreme disservice they impose on students.
During this month of library awareness in our schools, school officials and politicians need to recommit resources to hiring credentialed librarians and ensuring that students have access to top notch school libraries that serve their academic needs. Their futures and ours depend on it.
Amos, Denisse Smith. “Media Specialists (Librarians) Almost Endangered Species in Duval Schools.” The Florida Times Union. March 31, 2015.
Coughian, Sean. “Computers ‘Do Not Improve’ Pupil Results, Says OECD.” BBC News. September 15, 2015.
Guittar, Michelle, and Kelly Grossmann. “Data Back Up the Headlines: Adding Weight to Advocacy.” ILA Reporter. April 1, 2017.
Lance, Keith Curry, and Linda Hofschire. “Change in School Librarian Staffing Linked 2005—2011.” Library Research Service. January 2012.
Lance, Keith Curry, and Linda Hofschire. “Something to Shout About: New Research Shows that More Librarians Means Higher Reading Scores.” School Library Journal. September 1, 2011.
Martin, Tina. “A Surprising Number of Boston Public Schools Don’t Have Functioning Libraries.” WGBH News. October 25,2016.
Rosenberg, Steven A. “New Mass. Schools Focus on Technology, Security.” The Boston Globe. February 27, 2016.
Taketa, Kristen. “School districts Sue Illinois For Failing to Adequately Fund Public Education.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch. April 5, 2017.
In Misguided Education Reform: Debating the Impact on Students, I have a chapter on the politics of reading. I include a section on our endangered school libraries and treasured librarians.