May 24, 2018

America’s public schools are hemorrhaging librarians


Seen here: The school librarian, a profession going the way of the dodo.

America’s public education system is falling apart. Arizona, Colorado, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and West Virginia have all seen teacher walkouts this year. Teachers rightfully point to low pay, overcrowded classrooms, and stringent teach-to-the-test policies as reasons for their dissatisfaction. Perhaps that’s also why teacher vacancies are plaguing the nation’s schools.

Add on top of that Betsy Devos, who more or less chided participants in the Oklahoma walkout, urging them to “keep adult disagreements and disputes in a separate place.” Then on Tuesday, appearing before Congress, Devos defended cutting professional development funds for teachers in the same breath as she said that maybe they do deserve a raise. There’s been no response from Devos yet to a proposal to raise $100 billion in teacher funding by reversing the business tax cuts passed in December. My guess is that she’d rather keep her rich friends rich than fund public schools.

Of course, crucial to any public school is its library, and those, too, are in dire straits. As Adam Rowe reports for Forbes, “The United States can’t afford librarians.… Between 1999-2000 and 2015-16, U.S. public schools lost 19% of full-time equivalent school librarians, according to a School Library Journal article by researcher Keith Curry Lance that examined National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) data.”

As schools are squeezed tighter and tighter by state legislatures, it comes as no surprise that libraries are a top casualty. The trend appears to be hitting schools with high minority populations the hardest. Since education funding is linked with property taxes, the problem compounds further into the least-served areas of the country.

The need for school libraries and school librarians is clear. Librarians improve student performance. Period.

By depriving schools of librarians, we’re ensuring the education system spirals into collapse as quickly as Betsy Devos appears to hope. We can’t let that happen.



Peter Clark is a former Melville House sales manager.