Opinion: School library media specialists critical to student achievement
As a library media specialist in Plymouth-Canton Community Schools, I wear multiple hats on any given day. Much more than just managing the library collection and being the reading expert in my building, I teach students how to research, critically evaluate information, use digital resources responsibly, and prepare for college and 21st century careers.
In addition to collaborating with other certified teachers in the classroom, I design and present professional development programs that support school improvement plans, including integrating technology with classroom instruction.
My school district is one of a few in Michigan to have a library media specialist in every school building. In fact, only 8 percent of Michigan schools have a full-time library media specialist.
Statewide, there is a ratio of 3,343 students to every one library media specialist. It’s no wonder Michigan ranks 47th out of 50 states in supporting library media specialists. Michigan currently does not provide adequate or equitable funding for library media instruction and staffing to provide all students with the skills necessary to achieve and succeed.
That’s why I was encouraged to learn the School Finance Research Collaborative recommends one library media specialist per school building in its school adequacy study that determined the true cost of educating a child. The School Finance Research Collaborative is a diverse, bipartisan statewide group of business leaders and education experts who agree it’s time to fix Michigan’s broken school funding system to serve all students.
The final School Finance Research Collaborative report provides a base cost to educate a regular education student in Michigan.
The report also recommends additional funding considerations for special education, English Language Learners and students living in poverty. These student groups benefit most from having a school library because they often don’t have access to the same reading and digital media resources at home. Read the full School Finance Research Collaborative report here. Research shows that states with continually declining reading scores, including Michigan, have a correlating reduction in library media specialists. Conversely, states with lower student-to-library media specialist ratios consistently report higher reading scores. At the same time, Michigan continues to rank at the bottom in student achievement nationwide. Greater investment in library media specialists would be a major step toward improving student achievement.
Michigan currently funds its schools as if all students have identical learning needs, when in fact all students are unique with wide-ranging individual needs. I see this every day as I help
students with a variety of learning challenges and other circumstances advance their reading skills and utilize digital media resources that help prepare them for the competitive modern workforce.
Our current school funding system was adopted in 1994, predating the Internet, the expansion of global competition and increased automation that have brought both advantages and new hurdles for student success. It’s high time our school funding system reflects these dynamic changes.
The School Finance Research Collaborative’s first-of-its-kind research has provided policymakers with the building blocks for a new school funding system that provides all students with adequate and equitable access to a high-quality, 21st century education.
Now that we know the true cost of educating a student, Michigan policymakers can chart a new course for school funding that helps improve student achievement, addresses varying student needs and prepares all students for bright and prosperous futures. Anything less would be a disservice to our students and state.
None of this will happen overnight, but the School Finance Research Collaborative has provided the framework to start the discussion today.
Kathy Lester is a library media specialist at East Middle School in Plymouth-Canton Community Schools and past president and advocacy chair for the Michigan Association for Media in Education