Does your child’s school have a library?

If you answered yes, are you sure about that? Have you checked lately? In a disturbing national trend, school libraries have been on a steady decline for the last decade. I’m an education insider and I wasn’t even aware of this until this year when my own school eliminated our library. When that happened, all kinds of red flags went up for me and I began to look into it.

There are several factors that have led to the demise of the school library. A large and ever-growing percentage of school districts have gone to 1:1 technology. In other words, all students have some sort of electronic device from which they do most of their reading. In this process, physical books, including textbooks, have become much more scarce in schools.

While there are some benefits to having electronic books rather than physical books, there are also considerable drawbacks.

I can assure you that many students do not like to read from a screen. I can relate to that as I, too, much prefer an actual book.There have been many studies released in recent years indicating that many students learn better from physical textbooks than from the electronic versions. There is something about the tactile nature of touching or running ones fingers over an actual page of text that is lost with ebooks. That is a big deal for some students.

In fact, there have been no fewer than 25 separate studies that indicate students who go to schools that still have libraries staffed by certified librarians score better on standardized reading and writing tests than students in schools without libraries. So, I think we can write off the justification that libraries are no longer needed in schools because of the new technology. The data tells a different story.

As with most things, the real reason for the dwindling number of school libraries is money. Due to years of chronic underfunding, school systems have been forced to take drastic measures to remain financially solvent. When a district is faced with making big cuts, libraries are a fairly obvious place to start. The state of Indiana does not require schools to have a library, but prisons are required to have them — isn’t that interesting?

If a school district has multiple school libraries with certified librarians, eliminating those positions can save the district hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. So libraries and librarians often get caught up as collateral damage in the education funding wars and it’s the students who must suffer the consequences.

Last week, I said I was going to lay off the standardized testing theme for a while, but here I go again, forgive me. The state of Indiana spent well over $40 million on ILEARN last year. What if we let teachers create our own tests (free) and put those millions back into providing kids with resources they need to succeed?

Seems simple to me.

Alexandria native Shane Phipps is an author and teacher in Indianapolis. His column appears Mondays in the Herald Bulletin. Email him at shphipps@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @shanehphipps.

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