The Cost of Cutting School Librarians

I'm blogging from the breakfast room at Courtyard by Marriott in Anaheim. I've spent the weekend at the American Library Association conference (ALA). It's a fabulous show, full of people who love books and authors and aren't shy about showing it.


But, being a novelist, I have an ear for conflict. And the dark undercurrent at the show is budget cuts. I can't count the number of librarians I've spoken to who are either 1) losing their jobs completely, 2) narrowly escaped losing their jobs recently, or 3) being forced to take teaching jobs. The problem seems to be equally severe among school and public librarians, but let me focus on the school librarians.

These cuts, frankly, are bat-poop crazy. Eliminating school librarians while trying to increase student performance is like cutting half the foundation while trying to build a skyscraper. There are more than 60 studies conducted in 22 states directly linking student performance on standardized tests with the presence of a qualified librarian in students' schools. If we want to improve student test scores, then we need to more than double the number of librarians employed in public education--to ensure that each and every student is served by a fully qualified school librarian.

Since we're cutting librarians instead of hiring more, I have to question the sincerity of the politicians screaming for "school reform." I hesitate to use the phrase "school reform" even with quotes, because to the extent that we allow the issue to be framed as "reform," we lose the debate. And reform isn't an accurate description of what's happening. If we were serious about reforming our schools, we'd add school days to the calendar, hours to the school day, and librarians to every school lacking one--all things that have a proven, positive effect on student achievement on standardized tests. Merit pay for teachers would be a non-issue, since we know it doesn't work. So the agenda clearly isn't about "school reform"--it's about keeping our tax rates for the wealthiest Americans at their historically low levels, or perhaps dropping them even further.

So let's start calling the "school reform" movement what it really is: a school privatization movement. It's already reducing kids' access to books and librarians. We already have a two-tier system--anyone who's visited an inner city school and a wealthy private school knows exactly what I'm talking about. Continued budget cutting is only exacerbating this divide. We have a fundamental choice to make as a country--should America be the land of opportunity, where every student has a chance to work hard and succeed--has access to great teachers, librarians, and libraries; or do we want to be a land of low taxes? I vote for the former.



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8 comments:

Kelly Polark said...

Good post. Politicians yell "school reform" or "better education" but don't fund it. I think every concerned citizen needs to write to their state and federal leaders demanding more funding for education. So much $ is wasted on less needed programs.
Too many good teachers and librarians are being cut, and the kids are being short changed.

Stephsco said...

Excellent points. It's crucial as a voter to read the fine print on what you're voting for and what the candidates actually support. Simply tagging "school reform" onto something doesn't tell us what is being reformed in the same way when a candidate shouts about "cut spending" but craftily avoids mentioning what is being cut. We immediately attach what WE think should be cut, but it doesn't mean it's what that candidate will advocate to cut. I'm sure no one on earth is cool with cutting funding for Head Start programs or aid to developmentally disabled kids, but it's happening across the country.

Step 1: Know what you're voting for
Step 2: Actually go and VOTE :)

As a side note, the word verification on your site is rather difficult to parse. I had to try 3 times before it worked. It might be worth looking at your posting options to allow login posts and other avenues to prevent spam. :)

Jessi said...

Since I was home schooled, I never got to take advantage of school libraries even though my family was forced to pay thousands of dollars worth of taxes to the school, much more than our fair share since none of the kids in my family went to school. (Since property taxes pay for schools in our state, it's also very unfair to ranchers and people who own twenty square miles of land. When you have that much land, property tax is a big deal.)
What we really need is a better way to pay taxes.
I think instead of having school libraries, the money should go to the public library and the kids can go there to get books. That way, everyone can take advantage of it and there would be more selection since there won't be so many of the same books. (If you have two libraries, chances are a lot of the books will be the same ones, leading to less variety.)

Lissa Price said...

Mike, I cherish librarians and put them very high on my priority list!

Sareh said...

This is a good post.
My elementary days were filled with our many and quirky librarians at school. We had a couple of great ones. One even tried teaching us manners and taught us many things. I fell in love with reading at that library.

And now my current school's library has recently gotten rid of 75% of its books (it was needed. More then half of them were SERIOUSLY outdated). But we still have two part time librarians.

Anyways, I'm not sure how public high schools are but my private school is pretty nice on some levels. Sure its super tiny and we're getting a lot of stupid changes, but its better then the public high schools around here.

I want to say that private is better, but then the state I used to live in has one of the saddest educations levels in the country. There I wasn't suppose to learn about exponents until 9th grade but in my new state the fifth graders were already learning about them! I had a lot of catching up to say.

Mike Mullin said...

@Stephsco Sorry about the word verification. I'm a technological incompetent--it's amazing I'm even able to post, let alone fix site problems. I'll pass your comment on to Beth Revis, who is almost as fabulous at running websites as she is at writing.

Mike Mullin said...

@Jessi Please click through and read the research on school librarians I linked. Every place where school librarians have been cut, students have suffered. Those students had public libraries available to them. So the idea of replacing school libraries with public doesn't work.

Kim Carr said...

And many parents do not / cannot take their children to the public library. Thank goodness for the school libraries my children had. We lived in an "underserved" area, meaning no public library was available based on our address. We could have paid $100 for a card but I couldn't do that.