Chicago Public Schools vs school libraries

Elementary school libraryHarold Howe, author of Thinking about Our Kids, has said, “What a school thinks about its library is a measure of what it thinks about education.”

They must not think much about education in Chicago these days. They have taken school librarians out of the library and assigned them to classroom teaching.

I learned of the problem from a report on National Public Radio. I lived in the Chicago area for more than 20 years, and during the last 15 years or so of that time, I was married to a suburban elementary school teacher. We lived through a strike.

The news hit close to home, but I wouldn’t write about it if it had implications only for Chicago. Similar shenanigans appear all over the country, and not just with schools.

Looking into the matter further, I find problems with libraries in Chicago schools as far back as 2010. At that time, more than 160 schools in Chicago didn’t even have libraries.

The problem begins at the state level. The state of Illinois has no law requiring that schools have a library, let alone a requirement that students receive some instruction from a professional school librarian. Howe’s comment applies as much at the state (and for that matter federal) level as to local schools.

Nationwide, not just in Chicago, teachers’ unions and the politicians they support always complain about budget cuts. Even if the amount of money available in a given year is more than it was the previous year, the complaints about budget cuts continue unabated.

Chicago teachers went on strike for eight days as the start of the school year in 2012. In the aftermath, it was possible to find victories for the union and victories for the board. The school children and their families always lose in a strike, despite the self-righteous rhetoric on both sides claiming to care primarily about education.

For example, the Chicago teachers initially asked for a 30% pay raise over four years, despite the fact that the school budget is perpetually running a deficit. The final agreement gave them a 17.6% raise. Apparently, the two sides were close to agreement on that figure before the strike.

Speaking of budgets, too often they are made to appear to be balanced with accounting gimmicks.

Politicians always seem to warn that if the budget numbers don’t work out in their favor, it will mean draconian cuts to necessary services. In education, music, the arts, foreign languages, English and a second language, and librarians seem to be the second-class citizens among teachers and subject to the deepest cuts.

Apart from schools, I’m used to hearing warnings about the need for dire cuts to police and fire protection and other basic government services. But there always seems to be money for administrators’ pet projects and favors for campaign contributors.

And that’s a big reason why, when some money finally reaches the school principals, it seems necessary to decide which of the second-class subjects must suffer. Despite all the rhetoric, it appears that no one at any higher level has what’s good for educating children as their top priority.

What do you think?

Losing school librarians in Chicago Public Schools / Becky Vevea (WBEZ) 7/24/2014
Chicago public school libraries, librarians and the hypocricy of “Rahm’s Readers” / Chicago Teachers Union (6/13/2014)
Librarians challenge CPS claims that library cutbacks aren’t being forced on schools by CPS policies / George N. Schmidt (Substance News) 6/26/2014
In CPS, library void goes beyond one sit-in / Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah (Chicago Tribune) 10/26/2010 (Link no longer works as of June 2017.)
Wins, losses and draws in Chicago school strike / Michael Pearson (CNN) 9/19/2012
Watchdog group shreds Chicago Public Schools’ ‘gimmick’-based budget / Greg Hinz (Crain’s Chicago Business) 7/23/2014

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by bestlibrarian

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