As students around the country return to school, those in New York City are facing a future without certified school librarians, as the NYC Department of Education (DOE) has asked to be excused from a decades-old state mandate on minimum staffing requirements. The request for a “variance” from the law (Commissioner’s Regulation §91.2), filed August 9 with the New York State Education Department (see SLJ’s coverage, “Educators, Parents Fight NYC Bid to Bypass State Mandate for School Librarians,”), proclaims a sad lack of vision concerning the contribution librarians make to this great city. Mayor Bloomberg, surely this is not the kind of legacy you wish for? This is how we wisely invest in our future?
The Wall Street Journal reports that there are a meager 333 certified librarians serving the city’s 1,700 schools, after steady declines for years. We have reached a new, perhaps critical, low.
The timing couldn’t be worse for our schools. It’s been shown that kids in schools with librarians do better than those in schools without—a pretty simple and sufficient case. By whatever name (teacher librarian, media specialist, or librarian), these professionals deliver on basic literacy, digital literacy, research skills, college readiness, and much more. And, now, when all too many teachers lack training on the new Common Core standards, the city continues to defund this key human capital investment. This, just as the reaction to the first scores truly tests the implementation of the standards. We need the skills that media specialists bring to our schools.
The DOE should be positioning librarians to provide on-the-ground support for the implementation of the most significant educational initiative of our generation. School librarians are a natural source of professional development on materials—print or digital—and they can be a vital link to parents in explaining what to expect in the transition. Librarians, including those directly confronted by the NYC DOE’s move, are out front on the Common Core nationally. We’ve published several of them here.
The fact is there has been an ongoing disregard for the mandate itself. This law, in place for decades, articulates the will of the public for the public good. It is an expression of thoughtful process. Undermining it via a series of one-off executive decisions made by principals under immediate budgetary pressure is not how our social contract works best. Perhaps it is not such a bad thing that this penny-wise, pound-foolish cost-savings tactic has been brought out in the open—and back into the political process.
We don’t need what the DOE calls “equivalent service” in its August 9 letter. We don’t need vague assurances of “arrangements” and “steps” that will be taken to cope with this disinvestment. The NYC DOE’s request presents an opportunity for those of us who know what librarians do to challenge what’s been happening and to demand that the department take the lead in producing better educational results by supporting the deployment of the Common Core and those who are key to its success.
Will the DOE provide a vision of how to improve our children’s education? Or will it continue to cut costs in ways that at best seem small-minded?
Welcome back to school, people.
Rebecca T. Miller