At a time when D.C. public schools is pushing hard on literacy education to increase the number of students who can read proficiently, officials are proposing to cut funding for dozens of school librarian positions for the 2012-13 academic year as a cost-cutting move .

If the second part of the above sentence seems to contradict the first, that’s because it does. Quality school libraries have been repeatedly linked to reading achievement — including and especially among students who live in poverty — and today’s librarians have a much bigger role in the literacy life of students than they once did.

Under the proposed changes, schools with under 300 students will no longer have a librarian position funded from the DCPS budget. There are nearly 50 of those schools. Also, funding for librarians in schools with more than 300 will be shifted into a category that gives principals leeway on spending priorities, meaning they can decide not to have a librarian.

The D.C. Council, which has heard arguments against these cuts (see below a letter sent from the American Library Association to the council), considered the issue this week and came up with a solution that does pretty much nothing at all:

It recommended that Chancellor Kaya Henderson spend more money on the libraries by shifting one pot of money, but doesn’t in any way require that it be done.

Henderson told Jonetta Rose Barras in a story published in the Washington Examiner that librarians have failed to live up to their potential. This is what Barras wrote:

“We have invested in full-time librarians for the last three or four years and we haven't seen the kind of payoff we'd like” with reading test scores, Henderson countered, adding she is not disparaging librarians. "We have pulled away from programs where we haven't received a return on our investment.”

I guess that means they are going to have change the DCPS Web site, which has a section on librarians that says:

School libraries play an increasingly important role in the learning process as new technologies for accessing information emerge and evolve. 

Research studies continue to show that an active school library program run by a certified and trained school librarian makes a significant difference to student learning outcomes.

Certified librarians prepare students to engage with information on any platform and use ideas and information effectively through critical thinking, evaluation, organization, analysis, communication, and creativity.

Critics of D.C. schools say that the system has not properly funded its libraries and the schools don’t have the library resources they need to provide quality services to students.

A letter that some parents are signing and sending to the council says in part:

DCPS must rethink its approach to supporting school libraries. As DCPS seeks to have at least 70% of its students proficient in reading by SY2016-17, now is the time to be making investments in school libraries, not disinvestments. Now is the time to prove what’s possible with proven methods. DCPS should:

- fund a librarian at every school, regardless of size;

- provide a per student book allocation to each school to keep the collections and magazine subscriptions current (note that Arlington County provides its schools with a $21.75 per student book allocation); and

- invest in electronic reading devices and e-books collections as a cost-effective way of quickly expanding the current collections.

And here is the letter to the council from the president of the American Library Association, Molly Raphael, who worked for many years at the D.C. Public Library:

Dear Chairman Brown,

American Library Association is deeply concerned that the District of Columbia is considering eliminating more than 50 school librarian positions in FY2013.

Just recently D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson outlined a plan that would improve academic performance in D.C. schools. The plan outlined five goals, which included increasing proficiency in reading. How will you meet this goal if you deprive thousands of students of one of the most valuable educational resources needed for students to increase reading scores – a school librarian?

Since 1965, more than 60 education and library studies have produced clear evidence that school library programs staffed by qualified librarians have a positive impact on student academic achievement. Students with access to strong school library programs learn more, get better grades, and score higher on standardized tests.

Chancellor Henderson also mentioned that an emphasis would be placed on teaching in the classroom. School libraries are classrooms and offer students much more than just access to books. Librarians teach students how to navigate the Internet, conduct research and foster a love for reading. Their efforts to educate our children are recognized by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, and they are considered as teachers whose instruction can be measured to meet standards for professional teaching excellence.

I am sure we can agree that it’s not enough for children to know how to read – they must be fluent in multiple literacies. In an era filled with tweets, YouTube videos and Facebook, students are often left behind as many lack the ability to analyze the information found online and are left guessing about what Web content can be trusted.

We also cannot forget about how teachers look to librarians to assist with the development of curricula. From book selections to addressing advancements in technologies and information gathering, many educators look to school librarians to assist with keeping pace with the academic needs of 21st century students.

Along with parents and teachers, school librarians have a strong positive influence on students’ reading habits, and are the vital link between students and reading materials, whether it’s a book, magazine, or audiobook. School librarians have the expertise to find the right book for the right student.

It is difficult to comprehend how the elimination of school librarians supports D.C. Public Schools’ five-year plan to strengthen student performance, when thousands of students will lose access to resources that foster life-long, independent learning skills.

Good school libraries with well-trained school librarians are essential to a good education!

I am the president of the American Library Association, but I am not an outsider looking in. I speak from my experience from working for 33 years at the D.C. Public Library (1970-2003), with the last 7 years as director. I witnessed firsthand, from the front lines and later for many years in the DCPL administration, the impact of school librarians on student achievement. Public libraries are not prepared to teach the skills that school librarians teach to support K-12 education.

I respectfully request that the D.C. City Council supports the many concerned parents and community members who oppose eliminating these positions and safeguard school librarian position at D.C. Public and Charter Schools.

Sincerely yours,

Molly Raphael, President, American Library Association

CC: Mary Cheh, Chair Pro Tempore Ward Members, D.C. Council Member, Ward 3; David Catania, D.C. Council At-Large; Phil Mendelson, D.C. Council At-Large; Michael Brown, D.C. Council At-Large; Vincent Orange, D.C. Council At-Large; Jim Graham, D.C. Council Member, Ward 1; Jack Evans, D.C. Council Member, Ward 2; Muriel Bowser, D.C. Council Member, Ward 4; Tommy Wells, D.C. Council Member, Ward 6; Yvette Alexander, D.C. Council Member, Ward 7; Marion Barry, D.C. Council Member, Ward 8; De’Shawn Wright, Deputy Mayor for Education; Kaya Henderson, Chancellor, D.C. Public Schools

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