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Proficient Readers Need Good School Libraries

Proficient Readers Need Good School Libraries

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Published by Gaby Chapman
A plea to save school libraries from being replaced by packaged reading programs.
A plea to save school libraries from being replaced by packaged reading programs.

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Published by: Gaby Chapman on Feb 22, 2010
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02/22/2010

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Proficient Readers Need Good School Libraries
By Gaby Chapman
The federal No Child Left Behind Act was signed into law eight years ago this month. One of its avowed purposes was to assure that, by the end of the 2013-14 school year, all childrenwould be proficient in reading and math. It is now 2010, and a study by the
, released in November, has found no evidence of anincrease in reading achievement in either 4th or 8th grade since 2002. Expensive readinginitiatives such as the Reading First and Striving Readers programs have shown gains onlyin the low single digits. What are we missing?Books.In a quick survey of the dizzying array of reading initiatives launched at both the federaland state levels since 2002, the words “increase access to a choice of books” are all butimpossible to find. Meanwhile, as states grapple with budget shortfalls, schools around thecountry are quick to cut library funding to make ends meet. Not only is nothing being doneto increase access to books, nothing is being done to decrease the loss of access to books.School libraries are slowly but steadily being replaced by an onslaught of packaged readingprograms designed to teach “virtual reading,” in which students can learn everything aboutreading without actually doing it. As a result, progress toward universal reading proficiencyhas to be looked for with a magnifying glass.Study after study has shown that reading achievement in a school is directly related to thequality of its library. Research also has shown that improvements in school libraries result inimprovements in test scores, the greatest being among disadvantaged readers. With a goodschool library, all kids have easy access to a great selection of books. With a good selectionof books to choose from, they read more. And those who read more books get morepractice and become better readers. Their reading achievement scores rise.To reach the goal of 100 percent reading proficiency, we need to turn away from thedoctrine of NCLB, and toward a formulation that could be called NCWB—No Child Without aBook.
 
To reach universal reading proficiency, all schools must provide students with a high-qualitylibrary. It should be at the center of every school, the first room planned for in a newbuilding—and at the bottom of every list of budget cuts. School libraries should be openwhen kids can use them, especially in the summer. They should be comfortable, quiet, andinviting. And they should be well stocked at all times. Their objective should be puttingbooks into the hands of young people, not just on the shelves.Kids should be allowed to take books home. They should be able to keep them as long asthey like. Tracking systems should be designed only to show the whereabouts of books, notto fine kids. Good treatment of the books should be rewarded—it means more people get toread them. But damaged or lost books should not be a cause for punishment. A schoollibrary’s success should be counted in the number of books checked out per student perweek, not by how many sit pristinely on the shelves.These kinds of libraries do more than provide kids with easy access to the books they loveto read. They say to kids: We value reading, and it is our gift to you. Reading books is apart of school that kids can truly enjoy. When we show them we value it, we give them away of learning they can throw themselves into.All of us must work to prevent the disappearance of the school library.The federal government should strengthen school libraries, first by setting standards thatinclude them. To qualify for federal funding, schools should be required to maintain aspecified percentage of their annual budget in their library fund. Federal officials also shouldinclude a library factor in tabulating the annual score known as AYP, for adequate yearlyprogress. Each year, under the No Child Left Behind law, schools earn this designationbased on a complicated formula that includes scores on student assessments andgraduation rates, among other factors. Criteria for a library factor would include the numberof available books per student, the number checked out annually per student, the squarefeet of library space per student, and the number of hours the library is open, both whenschool is in session and when it is not. And finally, the federal government should encouragedonations from the private sector by allowing larger tax deductions for contributions toschool libraries.School accreditation agencies also can strengthen school libraries. Currently, these agenciesevaluate services and operations of schools for a fee, in exchange for a seal of approval.Though the accreditors are not government-affiliated, most public schools acquire suchaccreditation to assure the public of their educational quality. Representatives of suchagencies require a lot of data from applicants and spend days at a time observing school

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