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Policy dictates what occurs in education; now more than ever. Schools are cutting programming that is essential to children developing a well-rounded education. Music, art, and PE are on the chopping block. When the rigors of test taking demand more time spend in the classroom and dwindling funds require making difficult decisions, the arts are often the first to go. This is partly to do with the fact that for some policy makers, the arts don’t equal the technology-rich education that is being purported as essential to being a worker of the future.

Not only are the arts in peril, but libraries are as well. My uncle recently retired as superintendent of schools in the rural Midwest. During a recent visit, were discussing libraries and the role of the librarian in the school. He said that he had to lay off nearly every librarian in his school district because they simply could not afford it. The libraries languished; schools were left without librarians to manage collections, teach kids research and tech skills, and help kids find books for pleasure reading. Although these may sound like small things, for some children the school library is the only access that they have to print media and technology. Yes, there are public libraries, but often these children can’t get to them because of family circumstances. And standardized testing advocates rejoice: pleasure reading among kids leads actually to better test scores. I believe it also makes you a more well rounded human, but that’s just me.

Now imagine that your school is one that is lucky enough to be able to afford a full time librarian. As a teacher, you can send your students to the library to check out books, you can collaborate with the amazing librarian to come up with lessons that are inquiry based and help your students delve deeper into a subject, and your students have the opportunity to use some seriously cool tech—courtesy of the library. Now picture that the librarian has to come up with the funds to purchase the books that line the shelves. Imagine that he or she is spending a good portion of their time raising money for books because it simply isn’t in the school’s budget. Those kids that only get books from the school library might be limited if the librarian isn’t able to fundraise adequately. Yikes.

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview a middle school librarian for another class I am taking. Simply put, she loves what she does. Except for the nerve-racking job of having to fundraise. Lucky for her, she managed to secure a Donors Choose grant of $700. The collection in this particular library is aging and there are a lot of books to weed and replace with new copies; there are also new books that students and teachers want to have in the collection. $700 seems like a lot, but it honestly doesn’t buy very many books—and it is certainly not enough to reinvigorate the aging collection. She continues to limp along on the grant and tries to raise money each year with a book fair. There simply isn’t enough money in the budget for what is needed.

I would ask then, who gets to decide what is most important to students? And which students will suffer most when budget items deemed ‘extras’ or ‘frivolous’ are eliminated? It’s those who already have less. A prime example of inequity in our schools is when those students who need the ‘extras’ simply can’t get them. What good is an education if it is lopsided and continues to disadvantage those who need support the most?

Calvin-Libraries

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3 Responses to Line Item

  1. claire.s says:

    Thanks for your post! Its such a shame that arts education is not valued as highly as other subjects. I wonder if this is because student’s learning in arts and music classes can’t be so easily quantified by test scores…?
    I thought what you said here was very insightful: “A prime example of inequity in our schools is when those students who need the extras simply can’t get them.” Just as you said, it is the most underprivileged students that need the most resources. What could be a better system of allocating funding to schools? If some schools are getting more funding than others, should it be the schools with the highest number of at risk students?

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  2. Annie R says:

    Thank you for sharing your post! It saddens me to read to about library cuts. Some of my fondest memories of elementary and middle school happened in a library. The librarians at my schools were one of my biggest resources. I would always go to them for book recommendations and their help to find books. It really resonated with me when you said “schools are cutting programming that is essential to children developing a well-rounded education.” I wholeheartedly agree. Librarians provide a wide range of books for students to improve their reading skills and grow their love of learning. Not only that, learning to be comfortable in a library, how to ask for help, and how to research are vital skills that students will use throughout their entire academic career, particularly if they attend university. Such skills that cannot be easily taught, instead are a part of a student’s greater learning experience, are increasingly devalued in schools. Cuts to the arts is another example. Theatre programs have been cut drastically, yet theatre is a great way for students to learn how to become competent public speakers. They learn how to speak confidently in front of crowds while also growing creatively. We are constantly told in college that public speaking is a vital skill to have, yet it could be learned early on in theatre programs if they were actually given financial support. I think you were exactly right when you used the term “well-rounded education.” It seems that many schools are now neglecting a holistic learning experience for their students, instead just emphasizing the core subjects, in part because of drastic budget cuts. With programs such as the No Child Left Behind Act and the Common Core Standards encouraging such an emphasis, I wonder if the new legislation such as the Every Student Succeeds Act may shift the funding back to libraries and the arts or if such programs have become completely devalued in the eyes of policymakers.

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  3. Thanking you for posting! I definitely do agree that this lack of funding is hurting students far beyond hindering their interest to read, but also how lack of books/reading really does affect how well (or poorly) a student does on a standardized test. The lack of investments goes to show the strange contradiction of policy officials when they advocate for standardized reading comprehension programs in poor schools while at the same time diverting funds away from these poor schools and affecting literacy through lack of books. It really is keeping poorly funded schools and students in this working class cycle.

    I did not know how much librarians work to get books in their libraries! I just thought they decided which books to get and that there was never a need for them to fight to actually get books. Thank you so much for sharing that!

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