Currently, only seven of 214 Philadelphia public schools have functioning libraries with certified teacher librarians. This a dramatic decrease from 80 just 10 years ago. This quiet destruction of one the largest classrooms in schools has contributed to the need for charity and volunteers to help our students to read. However, research over the last 20 years in many states, including Pennsylvania, shows that students who have access to school libraries with full-time certified teacher librarians (CTLs) demonstrate higher academic achievement, including higher test scores, regardless of their socioeconomic status. Without school librarians, our students just don’t have the same opportunities to succeed later in life.
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Students also rely on school library collections and CTLs to access and analyze information, learn to think critically, develop a love of learning, freely explore the world around them, and develop the information literacy skills that they need in an ever changing information rich world. All of this leaves us wondering, don’t Philadelphia students deserve the best possible education?
This disheartening crisis in our schools is part of a larger trend that we can fight together to reverse. Please sign this petition to send an email to the School District of Philadelphia school board and Superintendent William Hite to reverse these cuts and restore our certified teacher librarians.
Although equity is a stated goal of Superintendent Hite’s current Action Plan, SDP superintendents over the last 20 years have overseen one of the most significant dismantlings of school libraries. In the School District of Philadelphia, teachers are forced to create GoFundMe accounts for supplies and school trips. Elementary students write letters to local politicians to plead for new playground equipment. High school seniors reach out to community donors to put books and furniture in an underused classroom to create a school library. Unless we take action now, what will be left in our schools?
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This is not due to lack of funds; it is about priorities. The District changed its budget priorities when it deleted school libraries from its overall budget, forcing individual schools to choose between CTLs and other resources. Grants and philanthropic funds have been used to stock classroom libraries, but they do not have the depth or breadth of reading material to meet all students’ literacy needs, and are not economically efficient. Nor do classroom libraries supply the tools and instruction needed to find and evaluate online and print information. Only a school library with a certified teacher librarian can provide this.
Educators know that the loss of school libraries and CTLs has hurt Philadelphia’s children. In 2013, a wise Marjorie Neff, who was then Masterman’s principal (and later became the District’s School Reform Commission chair), spoke to the Inquirer about the loss of the school’s CTL: “The library is the center of our instructional program here. People think about things like the library and counselors as extra. They are not extras.” In fact, the school library is the largest classroom in the school.