My View: Use funds for licensed school librarians
What contributes to student success? Across Oregon, educators, parents, students and community members are gathering to discuss just that, and to determine how funds from the recently enacted Student Success Act will be spent at the district level to increase equity and improve student learning. These important conversations beg the question: Do our students have what they need?
In many cases, the answer is "no."
One striking example is Oregon's school libraries. In Oregon, fewer than 15% of students attend schools with a professional librarian, a decline of 80% since the early 1980s. Yet more than 60 studies from across the country show that student achievement is higher — from grades and test scores to digital proficiency and graduation rates — in schools with a professionally staffed library.
Leaving such an important learning space unstaffed or understaffed is unacceptable. But there is good news. The Student Success Act offers an opportunity to reverse the trend and provide students with the instructional resources they need.
You may be thinking with the proliferation of technology, perhaps students don't need school librarians anymore. At a time when student success in school, the workplace and the community depends on their ability to navigate a complex information landscape, certified information professionals — school librarians — are more important than ever.
We all agree that students need to develop a continuum of literacies.
Today's school librarians harness technology for expanded opportunities and 24-hour access to information and resources. Students can take online classes, learn coding, work with robotics, create music, explore career interests and individualize their own learning.
Moreover, today's librarians serve an important role in creating a safe space where all students are welcome regardless of economic status, religion, sexual orientation, race or ability. They are integral to a school's commitment to equity.
Finally, today's school librarians nurture a culture of reading and inquiry, the very foundation of all learning, both in school and beyond.
Most Oregon school libraries currently are staffed by paraprofessionals. They are valuable partners, yet they cannot provide instruction, nor can they replace certified school librarians. The American Association of School Librarians stipulates an appropriately staffed school library has both.
Every student deserves to have a living, thriving library and reap the benefits of such.
We can and must do better for our students. Without a licensed librarian, there cannot be a strong school library. Even if you don't have children who attend public schools, Oregon's children are our neighbors and our future work force and community leaders. Adequately staffing Oregon's schools — in alignment with the statewide Quality Education Model — matters to all of us.
Take action today. Call your local school and ask if it has a licensed school librarian. If not, request that the principal and administration earmark Student Success Act funds to provide students with the certified staff they need to ensure that your community's children graduate ready for lifelong learning, the workplace, and civic participation — and prepared to fulfill their own potential.
Mary Keeling is president of the American Association of School Librarians. Laurie Nordahl is the president of the Oregon Association of School Libraries.
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