On March 6, the Modesto Bee reported that “Modesto [Calif.] city schools are poised to cut 29 full-time teaching positions for next year, including most elementary school librarians.” School board v-p Amy Neumann is quoted in the story as saying she supports a proposition to “eliminate library instruction time” and replace it with “computer technical instruction from a credentialed teacher.” Neumann adds, “this kind of instruction is crucial to student success on the Common Core Smarter Balance tests that will be implemented next year.”
What a shame that the Modesto School Board believes it must eliminate its librarians in order to hire a credentialed teacher to provide the kind of technical skills students need to take an online test, when technology already plays an integral role in the library skills curriculum. Numerous studies, including 21 state studies, have shown a strong link between certified school librarians and increased levels of student achievement, including on standardized tests. The data shows that, “the size of the school library staff and collection is the best predictor of academic achievement, regardless of other factors,” including economic ones.
On April 5, Margaux gave a presentation, (Beyond Web 2.0), at the Long Island Connected Educators’ Meet-Up, a technology “unconference,” on the techniques used to facilitate research and learning at Garden City (N.Y) High School. And in February, at Freeport (N.Y.) High School, Rose participated in Digital Learning Day—a national celebration that promotes the use of technology to strengthen student learning. In both events, we highlighted some of the interactive digital tools librarians use on a daily basis to help make the research process part of student learning.
Technology plays an important role in helping school librarians teach, and in helping students learn. In fact, the modern library is no longer a repository for books—it has been transformed into interactive “makerspaces” where patrons can connect, create, and utilize technology. Many public libraries now offer the option of checking out tablets for reading e-books, and they allow users to create objects via 3-D printers.
Given the evolving nature of their profession, many school librarians the primary technology integration specialists within their schools, in addition to working as expert collaborators, professional development planners, and instructional leaders. It is for these reasons that school librarians have long been viewed as being on the forefront of the implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Unfortunately, the role of the teacher librarian still appears to be misunderstood in relation to the Common Core—especially when school districts make drastic programming changes, and then cite “supporting the Common Core” as their rationale.
It’s ironic, considering that the Common Core standards have highlighted the work that school librarians do every day as instructional leaders within their schools. A recently published report, titled Leading In and Beyond the Library, highlights the fact that many school districts are taking advantage of their school librarians as digital experts and technological leaders. The report states that “many principals and district leaders are utilizing the role of the school librarian and the library and its resources as important elements in the digital learning transition, the systemic approach to integrating the effective use of technology to improve student outcomes.”
Evidence of the technological prowess of the modern librarian can be found in the growing online presence of school librarians across the country. Librarians like Buffy Hamilton, Paige Jaeger, Gwyneth Jones, Jennifer LaGarde, Linda Lindsay, Michelle Luhtala, Shannon Miller, Nikki Robertson, John Schumacher, Joyce Valenza, Tiffany Whitehead, Matthew Winner, and so many others are all representative of the way school librarians now deliver hands-on digital instruction to their students and staff.
What is unique about librarians’ approach to teaching, as opposed to the approach of someone who simply “teaches technology,” is that librarians are trained to teach information literacy and media literacy skills. An understanding of information literacy is crucial, as many “digital natives” are not as media savvy as one might think, and many young adults lack the skills needed to evaluate much of the content they find online.
In a February board meeting of the Los Angeles Unified School District, Dr. Stephen Krashen, Professor Emeritus of the University of Southern California and a world renowned language acquisition expert, spoke in support of more libraries and librarians, discussing how 30 years of studies have demonstrated their importance. "More school librarians per child," Krashen states in video of the event, "the higher the reading scores."
As we move forward with implementing the Common Core standards, which is the better investment: focusing on rote “technology” skills, like in Modesto, so that students can take online standardized tests; or investing in certified librarians to teach students to think critically, evaluate information, and be research-ready for college?
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