The Sky Is Not Falling…

On February 7, 2017, Betsy DeVos was confirmed as America’s secretary of education. There has not been any new legislation, and it would take a little while to implement any, but I do have some concerns about the direction of education in America. With a new secretary of education, there’s potential for big change.

This is why I’m both a bit worried and hopeful:

  1. My first and most obvious concern is my job as a school librarian. If charter schools become the norm for education, school librarian positions could be on the chopping block since many charter schools don’t have school librarians–only about one third did in 2015. Also, if public schools receive less funding due to charter school increase, it’s not unreasonable to think school librarian positions would be cut.

    The hope:

    If charter schools take off (currently there is one in my area, no school librarian), maybe our communities will see our value and include school librarians. If charter schools are in the works, we need to make sure school librarians are part of the vision stakeholders have in their minds when they imagine a locally run, community school.

  2. Even though charter schools are publicly funded, they have more freedom in regards to choosing curriculum and content offered at the individual schools. This hybrid status may create an environment where school librarianship values outlined by AASL/ALA are directly challenged by charter school stakeholders. Access to information and resources could be impeded if charter schools are able to offer overtly censored content. This concerns me professionally because I would find it hard to work in a setting where students may be unable “to speak and hear what others have to say” (AASL, 2016). I also find this upsetting as a member of society, not just as a school librarian.

    The hope:

    If some charter schools prevent students from accessing uncensored information or inappropriately restrict the content to which they are exposed, maybe other charter schools will make a point to uphold ideals like the Library Bill of Rights and the Definition for an Effective School Library Program. Perhaps we can rely on our communities to value school libraries and what our programs provide to students, staff, and stakeholders.

Does anyone else have any concerns about the future of school librarianship or charter schools in general? For years we’ve all been hearing how libraries are becoming obsolete, and there have been major cuts in regards to school libraries. However, there are still school libraries and school librarians, and I’m fortunate that I get to be one of them, and I’m not stopping now.

This library is part of a public school filled with amazing public school teachers, aids, admins, and librarians.

Author: Mica Johnson

I’m a school librarian at Farragut Middle. I like the lib to be loud, messy, and full of student activity. I love tech stuff as much as I love books, and I’m part of an awesome rotating maker space.



Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics

12 replies

  1. I have the same concerns. I can see where your hopes have some chance of becoming a reality in the charter schools. But the truth of the matter of the matter is that most people do not realize just how much support the library provides to a school. At least not outright. It will take some time before they figure it out. That could have very serious implications on the quality of education that students receive. Let’s hope for the best.

  2. Nancy, I agree! I keep trying to be positive, but I don’t want to minimize concerns either. I’ve been pretty stressed since 11-08-16.

  3. Actually, Mica, I do not see the future of public education under Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos as you do. If she is able to actualize her goal to privilege charter, religious, and other private schools over public schools, you will see a definite decline in the number of school librarians.

    In 2015, Arizona was 48th in the nation in per student funding (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/local/wp/2015/06/02/the-states-that-spend-the-most-and-the-least-on-education-in-one-map/?utm_term=.d667500ecbc2).

    One reason for that is the number of charter schools in our state that take money away from neighborhood public schools. Charter school students now account for 10% of the K-12 student population in Arizona (http://www.arizonaschoolchoice.com/edu_cs.html). Nearly all of Arizona’s charter schools do not have libraries, much less school librarians. Their students and teachers use public libraries, if they use libraries at all.

    The following is a snapshot from the 2016 study report just released by the National Education Association: “Library/Media Centers in U.S. Public Schools: Growth, Staffing, and Resources: Full Report.” http://www.nea.org/home/67686.htm

    “Those states reporting the fewest percentages of schools with library/media centers are Arizona, Massachusetts, and Alaska, (79.6%, 77.3% and 74.5%, respectively) (19).”

    “States reporting the fewest [school librarians] are California and Arizona (54.5% and 64.1%, respectively) (40).”

    Chronic under-funding of public schools impacts school libraries. Our experience in Arizona suggests all citizens, and especially those who care about school libraries and school librarians, should be vigilant watchdogs with regard to the future of public education in our country.

    From my view from the Grand Canyon State, the sky may not be falling, but it has definitely darkened.

    Work Cited

    Tuck, Kathy, D. and Dwight R. Holmes.“Library/Media Centers in U.S. Public Schools: Growth, Staffing, and Resources: Full Report,” NEA.org, http://www.nea.org/assets/docs/Trends%20in%20School%20Library%20Media%20Centers%20Full%20Report.pdf. Accessed 16 Feb. 2017.

  4. I see nothing but doom and gloom on the horizon.

    Mica, there is nothing in your “hope” statements that gives me any feeling that the charter schools will in any number suddenly realize that libraries are fundamental to the educational process. It all boils down to a bottom line that is not buttressed by current educational theory.

  5. Floyd, I totally get that doom and gloom feeling. I wondered if people would think I was being alarmist by being stressed about this issue. I’ve been trying not to Henny Penny about this, but it is scary.

  6. Judi,

    I don’t disagree with your outlook, I’m just really really hoping it doesn’t turn out that way. When I wrote this post, I didn’t want to just write about all the negative aspects of what may come. I felt like I should try to offer something positive. Maybe there really isn’t anything positive to say/write about this issue.

  7. Mica, I appreciate your effort to attempt to be positive. I hope you will consider Arizona’s situation as a canary in the coal mine… After reading the NEA report yesterday, I was particularly disheartened.

    The Arizona Legislature has been emboldened by Betsy DeVos’s rise to national power. They are now considering a bill that would allow families to use vouchers for private and religious schools as well as for charters. Besides using public monies for private schooling and the separation of church and state issues, many private and religious schools do not have school libraries or employ school librarians. Sadly, I wish there was better news.

    Bottom line: This is the time for advocacy and action!

  8. Judi,
    I think I need to chalk this post up as a fail on my part. I’ve been running around with my hair on fire since November, making donations to as many orgs as I can afford, marching at the city-county building (I’m in TN, my govt LOVES DeVos), making calls etc….and I really meant this post as a reminder to myself and others that we will go on even in the face of this adversity, that positivity is still trying to grow. Disheartened is definitely what I’ve been feeling since November.

    Does it seem like I am saying we should just accept charter schools, like don’t worry about it, everything will be fine (I am actually asking, I’m not being snarky)? I mean it more like, before I just give in to giving up, I’m going to try and find something positive. If I can convince a charter school to take on a school library, it’s probably going to take a lot of advocacy and action for sure. Like Spongebob, I”m Ready!

  9. I’m a school librarian at a charter school — we are definitely an exception. I am anxious and constantly wavering between optimism and pessimism. My position is only part time, and I took it because for family reasons I needed a few years of a more flexible schedule.

    I created the library out of piles of donated books and a few donated shelves, working with colleagues to fundraise to get library bound books and shelving, as well as a desk and tables and basic needs. I am extremely proud of my library, and my relationships with the students. But I am aware that if funding changes, I may be the first person out the door. I also realize that, as Nancy Rodriguez points out, very few people realize what role school librarians play in public schools. I am so privileged that I can afford to spend a few years in this tenuous position.

    I am constantly advocating for my position and the library because I find that even the teachers (who are often very young) have no idea what more a librarian can do than run a circulation desk. It’s kind of exciting to advocate like I do, but given that sometimes I feel like I’m reinventing the wheel, I’d prefer not to be the wave of the future!

    Thank you for your post.

  10. Dear Mica,
    Thanks for initiating this conversation.

    Your response prompted me to find this chart that shows the number of charter schools in each state as of February, 2015: https://www.edreform.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/CER-CharterLawsChart20151.pdf

    I suspect the impact of charter schools on regular public school funding in Tennessee (with just 80 in ’15) and Arizona (with 623 in ’15) is significantly different at this point in time.

    Believe me. No one is giving up… Since becoming a school librarian in 1992 (and I cannot speak for Floyd but he has also been in the field for a number of years ;-), I have been in a constant state of advocating for students’, teachers’, and families’ rights to vibrant school library programs staffed by state-certified/professional school librarians. My focus has been on attempts to keep school libraries and librarians in regular public schools. (And in two of my former districts – Tucson Unified and Sunnyside – I/we have badly failed to do just that.)

    All I’m suggesting here is that the consequences of public funding for private and religious schools, expanding funding for charters, and the de-funding of regular public schools will not – from my Arizona perspective – bode well for school libraries and librarianship.

    Truly,
    Judi

    Suggested reading: “Heavens to Betsy” by Kristina Rizga, March-April 2017 issue of Mother Jones Magazine

  11. Judi,
    Thanks for your input.

  12. Sara B,
    I’m very intrigued by your position, and I completely agree with the wavering feelings. I’m trying to stay positive in regards to charter schools, but I pretty much assume my job will be cut sooner than later.
    Can I ask how your position came about, like why did a charter choose a librarian, even if only PT?

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