Flawed Logic: Literacy without Libraries or Librarians

As we begin that slow dance back to school after a short and pleasant summer, the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is doing its own dance, hopelessly out of control, having long lost its original purpose.

Most educators probably can’t even remember why it exists. ESEA, a.k.a. No Child Left Behind (NCLB), was passed in 1965 and was due to be updated in 2007. The original intent was to provide funding to help the nation’s most disadvantaged students, the poor and new immigrants learning English. Unfortunately its intent got lost, in the demand for high stakes testing, and has morphed into some strange enigma — so much so that most states have now been granted waivers to implement their own educational improvement plans.

While the House of Representatives passed their version of ESEA on July 19th, the Student Success Act, the Senate has two bills floating around, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act and Every Child Ready for College or Career Act of 2013, which may or may not even come to the floor for a vote. All of the bills have good and bad ideas, but the Strengthening America’s Schools Act has a little known provision, Improving Literacy and College and Career Readiness Through Effective School Library Programs, that simply must be included in the final version of the ESEA.

The NEA recently endorsed this portion of the bill at its Representative Assembly held in Atlanta this summer. New Business Item 54 passed unanimously after I introduced it on behalf of the Ohio delegation. All day long school librarians came up to thank me for moving this issue forward. Many had stories to share about teacher librarians being laid off or riffed back into classrooms, and libraries being closed with entire collections pilfered and dismantled.

Ohio is one of 13 states that require students to be proficient in reading by the third grade or be kept from advancing to the fourth grade, yet few states, including Ohio, provide extra funding to help struggling students. Most do not require schools to have libraries or certified librarians. Many employ paraprofessionals or library aides, who may not be teachers or have any college education to run their libraries, if they have anyone there at all. They primarily check books in and out and read books to elementary students.

Certified librarians, on the other hand, have had rigorous training and most possess a master’s degree or higher in library science. Many of us have teaching licenses, as well as library certifications, and have been educators for years. We offer reading and information literacy education, and are experts in knowing what children want to read. Our education never ceases as we continually read reviews, take technology courses, attend conferences, and are responsible for running budgets and training staff members.

Studies over the past twenty years have shown that students who attend schools where certified librarians are employed are more successful academically. Recently, two notable studies, Creating 21st Century Learners: A Report on Pennsylvania’s Public School Libraries and Change in School Librarian Staffing Linked with Change in CSAP Reading Performance, 2005 to 2011, have proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that employing certified teacher librarians significantly impacts student achievement in reading and writing with improved test scores.

We would be foolish to let this small window of opportunity pass without lobbying our state and federal representatives, along with the NEA, to employ certified librarians in every school. Call or write your legislators today and urge them to pass a version of ESEA that includes this important provision!

 By Susan Ridgeway, Wooster Education Association



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