School Librarians and Literacy

According to this article published in The Huffington Post last week, 58 of 124 D.C. pubic schools are losing their librarians this school year—up from 34 last year. The article begins by describing the accomplishments of one of the school librarians who will not be back:

When Marla McGuire was hired as a librarian at Cleveland Elementary School in the District of Columbia some four years ago, she was first librarian at the school in eight years. McGuire worked to raise $50,000 for new materials, collaborated with other teachers to create an outdoor classroom and encouraged parents to read with their children.

“I really tried to embed myself in the school community,” McGuire told The Huffington Post. “I wanted to focus on a love of learning and really get a spark going.”

Soon, children who came to her knowing nothing about libraries — a student once asked her timidly how much it might cost to “rent” a book from the school’s collection — got excited about reading, she says.

I particularly want to draw your attention to the last sentence in the first paragraph, where we learn that one of Ms McGuire’s accomplishments was that she “encouraged parents to read with their children.”

I think this story demonstrates that as a city, (and it’s not just this city that has this problem) we aren’t really thinking through what resources need to be in place in order to improve literacy rates. I don’t know how many kids developed a reading habit as a result of Ms McGuire’s efforts, or how many parents started reading to their children as a result of her encouragement, (and maybe we need to figure out how to document this better), but even if we’re talking about just a handful of families, it seems to me that as a matter of policy her position was probably a good investment.

What Would Sequestration Mean for the District of Columbia’s Most Vulnerable Residents?

Yesterday one of our local public radio stations here in the District (WAMU) broadcast a story on the potential local impact of sequestration, the across-the-board federal spending cuts that are set to go into effect in January—unless Congress passes some kind of legislation to avoid it. Right now these cuts are required by a law that this same Congress passed last summer, the Budget Control Act (BCA).

Stephen Fuller, director of George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis, told WAMU that federal spending accounts for roughly 40% of the D.C. metro area’s economy. Federal employees and contractors spend their paychecks here, and so businesses that rely on those dollars (and the housing market) are likely to suffer if that spending is cut back significantly:

“Federal payroll supports a lot of jobs at Giant and Safeway and CVS and other retail establishments,” he says, citing some examples. “There will be fewer high-income households that can afford big houses.  So we could see a rollback on housing values.”

In D.C. itself, the District’s chief financial officer, Natwar Gandhi, told WAMU that federal spending accounts for 60% (!) of the city’s annual economic output. He said that cuts to federal spending would likely result in reduced local tax revenue, which could lead to reductions in services for the city’s most vulnerable residents.

(Fun fact: the legislation that created sequestration was enacted by a Congress in which we do not have a vote, yet it sound like the pain associated with these cuts will likely be more painful here in this city than it will be in other parts of the country.)

Alternatives to sequestration may still include federal workforce reductions and pay freezes, so even if sequestration is scrapped, it’s replacement might not be so great for the local economy either. I recently attended a meeting with some Republican staffers who were still enthusiastically pitching S. 2065, a Senate bill that was introduced in February that would delay the first installment of the sequestration cuts by extending the current federal employee pay freeze though June 2014, and restricting federal hiring to only two employees for every three who leave. While I don’t think this specific bill is going anywhere at the moment, elements of this proposal could make their way into a sequestration-scrapping plan somewhere down the road.

Fuller told WAMU that federal contracting “has been a welfare program for the Washington metropolitan area. Taxpayers around the country send us their money, and we’ve been living well off of this, and now we have to face the music.” Sequestration alternatives that protect this long-standing corporate welfare program via reductions in federal hiring and pay freezes will likely have the same kind of depressive effects on the local economy as the across-the-board cuts required by sequestration.

Great Collection of School Library Posters from the 1960s, Back When People Cared About School Libraries

RETRO POSTER - Interested in Sports?A Flickr user recently uploaded a collection of 1960s library posters discovered “while digging through old library stuff.”

I love the poster here in particular. Who doesn’t enjoy a good book about track? (I’m sure there must be one, actually. By the way, a great collection of boxing writing was published just last year, “At The Fights: American Writers on Boxing,” edited by the late George Kimball.)

Most of the posters in this collection, like the one here, are promoting school libraries. Today, school libraries are under threat. Here in Washington, the city recently eliminated funding for school librarian positions in D.C. Public Schools with fewer than 300 students. And those with more than that 300 students, while they will still receive funding for the position, they’re not compelled to fill it.

New Policy Brief from D.C. LEARNs

D.C. LEARNs has just published a policy brief that reviews the research on the influence that a parent’s educational attainment and literacy level has on his/her child’s literacy development and success in school. The research review was conducted by our spring policy intern, Nahid Al-Tehmazi, and the paper itself was co-written by Nahid and myself.

You can view/download the paper here.