Northwest Herald

Libraries found to boost test scores but are struggling from budget cuts

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Last school year, District 26 had a library media teacher at each of its six schools.

With the closing of Maplewood Elementary School, there’s now five schools, but only one librarian split among all of them.

Jeremy Dunn, president of the Illinois School Library Media Association, said the organization knew of at least 70 school library-related positions statewide that were eliminated. But that number was established in the spring before many budget decisions had been made.

“I kind of expect it to be greater,” Dunn said. “It could be well over 200 positions.”

From the association’s perspective, it’s especially a problem because library media centers might be the only centralized resource that provides for the entire school.

“When that’s eliminated or downsized, it affects everybody across that school population,” Dunn said.

At all grade levels, test scores tend to be higher where school libraries are staffed more fully and are better funded, according to a 2003 study by the llinois School Library Media Association. Funding for the study, which was endorsed by the Illinois State Board of Education, also was provided by the Illinois State Library, Secretary of State Jesse White, and the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.

For example, fifth-grade ISAT writing performance are on average almost 9 percent higher and eleventh-grade ACT scores more than 4 percent higher in schools where librarians are on duty more hours a week.

Still, that doesn’t always save them from cuts.

“It’s not like school libraries are being singled out necessarily,” Dunn said. “There does seem to be a historical trend that programs like art, sports and to some extent libraries are often the first to be put on the chopping block,” he said.

At Marengo Community Middle School, sports and other extracurriculars previously were eliminated because of budget shortfalls, but the library was bare-bones.

“We were already pretty much a skeletal crew in the library,” Principal Tracy Beam said.

The school now has one librarian and some assistants that work on an as-needed basis.

“We’re trying to make do with what we have and utilize our resources as best as we can,” Beam said.

Allison Strupeck, spokeswoman for District 300, said the only cut that directly affected its libraries was to eliminate time that media specialists spend supervising classes in the library for kindergartners.

“In the past, kindergarten teachers [would] leave their students with the media staff in the library at set intervals,” she said. “Now the teachers have to stay with the kindergartners when they visit the libraries.”

With District 26 ranked fifth-worst in the state financially and facing the threat of being taken over by the state, school board members made some of the most drastic cuts in the area, and libraries were hit hard.

Kathy DeRaedt spent five years at Cary Junior High, but now hops between the district schools, spending one day a week at each. She has been with the district 21 years, and it is her sixth year as a learning center teacher.

She is spending less time with the students and more time on managerial and administrative duties, DeRaedt said.

“I really miss seeing the kids, and I loved my information literacy lessons,” De-Raedt said. “The other part is I know the teachers have so much on their plates right now, so there’s a part of me that almost feels guilty to ask them to teach these lessons, which I’m trained for.”

There also is a less-flexible schedule for students to drop in, but books still are getting into the hands of students, and she feels that the district supports the library and its services, DeRaedt said.

“We will come back,” DeRaedt said. “It’s not going to be easy and it’s not going to be overnight, but we’ll come back.”