Kathy Lester is a school library media specialist with Plymouth-Canton Community Schools and past president of the Michigan Association for Media in Education (MAME).
My association, the Michigan Association for Media in Education, appreciates the hard work and in-depth research done by the Education Trust-Midwest in its recent report “2018 State of Michigan Education Report: Top Ten for Education: Not by Chance.”
That report has gone a long way to bringing attention to the facts that “Michigan third-graders are the lowest performing students in the U.S. among peers, based on the state’s assessment; and, Michigan is one of only a few states in the country that has actually lost ground in third-grade reading in recent years.”
Our group supports all the recommendations in that report to improve education and literacy in Michigan. But we believe there is one more important recommendation that should have been included: “Michigan MUST support effective school libraries supported by certified school library media specialists in order to improve literacy in our state.”
The ETM report points out that Michigan ranks poorly on the National Assessment of Education Progress – the Nation’s Report card. Not coincidentally, Michigan also ranks 47th in the ratio of students to certified school library media specialists (NCES 2015 data).
The report also points out that Michigan reading scores fell between 2003-2015; again, not coincidentally, Michigan lost more than 60 percent of its school library media specialists during this same time frame.
There are multiple studies in more than 20 states, including Michigan, that show that school libraries with a full-time certified teaching school librarian improve student reading achievement regardless of socio-economic or educational levels of the community. In fact, at-risk students benefit proportionally more from the presence of a full-time certified school librarian. Information about these studies can be found here.
Yet, as of December 2016, only 8 percent of Michigan schools employed a full-time library media specialist and only 18 percent employed a full- or part-time library media specialist.
An example of the problem for students without access to a school library media specialist can be seen in a segment recently broadcast by Detroit’s WDIV-TV. The segment concerned a library at a Detroit school that started out as a storage room; but, without a school library media specialist to maintain the collection, how long will it take before this reading room turns into a storage room again? Without a certified school library media specialist, who will assist students with book selection; who will promote reading; who will teach students about information, digital and media literacy; who will work with teachers to teach vocabulary, text features, and independent reading skills?
To become a top 10 state for education, Michigan needs strong, effective school library programs led by certified school library media specialists; these professionals develop a culture of reading, support third grade reading efforts, and have a positive impact on student achievement. In addition, school library media specialists help lead technology initiatives in their schools and help develop students who are college- and career-ready by teaching information literacy skills to all students.
At the Michigan Association for Media in Education, we believe that schools with a well-stocked and consistently funded library staffed by certified school library media specialists should be a reality for every single child in Michigan, not a luxury reserved for a privileged few. As a society, we prioritize what we value, and when we prioritize school libraries, we are saying that we value children and we value literacy.