I have the pleasure of serving on the board of my professional association as the school library representative in Indiana District 4. As part of my appointed responsibilities, I am contacting you regarding a very important issue. The students in your district are at risk of losing one of their most valuable assets in the journey to becoming well educated adults: a strong school library program, and a certified school librarian.
This winter you have been asked to undertake a very difficult and perhaps unprecedented task. You must construct an operational budget for your school district in a time of economic crisis. Though you have been given limited financial and professional resources from our state policy makers, you are expected to finalize a budget without negatively impacting the academic achievement of the children in your schools.
Often, in a time of budget downsizing, leaders decide it is necessary to cut professional and support staff positions. While considering staff cuts, you always try to protect positions that directly interact with students and support their learning. Because many of you are currently in this decision making position or have previously made these decisions, it is vital that you more fully understand the fundamental instructional activities that are the responsibility of your school librarians (media specialists). In an effort to help inform your decision, included in this message is research-based information illustrating how school library programs increase student learning and achievement.
Studies in over 19 states (including Indiana) have found that students tend to perform better on standardized tests in schools with better-staffed, better-stocked, and better-funded school library programs (see - http://bit.ly/yablog1). I am sure you agree that while standardized testing is only one of many ways we should assess student learning, it is the method most valued by state and national policy makers in education. Test results are most often how lawmakers, the media, and the community evaluate the effectiveness of your school. If the quality of your school library program is reduced by cuts, more than likely student tests scores will drop.
Passing tests based on memorized facts is not an adequate predictor of how successful our students will be after leaving high school. Professional educators must look beyond testing and create programs for authentic learning. Because information and ideas are now produced and published at rates never before experienced, it is impossible for any student to understand and remember enough content in core subject areas. In the modern digital age, there is just too much to know! Now that an abundance of facts, figures, and opinions are literally at our fingertips we no longer require rote memorization for efficient problem solving. Instead, our schools must provide effective instruction and meaningful assessment to strengthen students’ critical thinking abilities. To ensure a future of opportunity for our students, we need to teach the skills necessary to find, evaluate, use, and create information using a variety of tools and resources. We are developing minds to deal with a future we cannot predict.
No other staff member in today’s school is more poised to lead and provide this instruction than well supported, certified school librarians. In fact, your school librarians may be the only educators in your district that actively plan curriculum for student and teacher development based on two sets of academic standards: The academic learning standards issued by the state, and the Standards for the 21st Century Learner (see - http://bit.ly/yablog3 ) developed by our professional organization, the American Association for School Librarians.
If you review the framework of the Partnership for the 21st Century Skills you will note that our students require the development of information, media, and technology skills as the foundation for authentic learning (see - http://bit.ly/yablog3). School librarians are trained to simultaneously deliver instruction in information literacy skills along with core content through collaborative planning and teaching with classroom teachers. When a content area teacher and a school librarian collaborate, the student-teacher ratio is cut in half, response to intervention is more timely and personalized to the needs of each student, and the assessment of understanding is more reflective.
While considering cuts of school librarians, library support staff, or library materials funding, you may wonder what children regularly do in the school library under the instruction of a school librarian. Among many other activities, the students:
- Learn and develop a love of reading
- Find stories and information that allow their imagination and creativity to soar
- Discover how to successfully and confidently utilize resources of higher learning
- Understand what it means to be a critical consumer and producer of information in a digital age
- Internalize the importance of ethical and safe behavior in online environments
- Experience how to actively and intelligently participate in a democracy
In a recent blog article, Doug Johnson, author and Director of Media and Technology for the Mankato (MN) Public Schools, tells us that “…in times of budget cuts… a school's true values come starkly into focus” (see - http://bit.ly/yablog4 ). As you make final decisions about staffing, I ask you to consider the essential role school librarians play in educating students. In the words of our former First Lady, and fellow librarian, Laura Bush, “School libraries help teachers teach and children learn… Books, information technology, and school librarians who are part of the schools' professional team are basic ingredients for student achievement."
Thank you for taking time to read this message. Please do not hesitate to contact me for additional information.
District 4 Representative
Association for Indiana Media Educators
Indiana Library Federation
The above letter was sent via email to over 60 school leaders in Central Indiana. The school districts they represent are considering, or have already, cut funding for school library staff and/or library materials.
I want to thank Carl Harvey II, for helping me by creating the foundation for this letter. Please read his excellent blog at http://www.carl-harvey.com/. As of the date of this blog, Carl is a candidate for President of AASL, our national professional association.
I also want to thank the amazing school librarians who helped to edit this letter and who serve AIME. It is awesome to work with those who are dedicated to helping the most wonderful professionals in the world!
Those who are advocating in support of strong school library and media programs staffed by certified school librarians are encourage to link to or borrow ideas from this post. Also, please visit the AASL Advocacy website for a well stocked advocacy toolbox.