Barbara Dowdall SRC testimony – February 16, 2016


Remarks to the School Reform Commission and Dr. William Hite

Opportunity for School Libraries Across the Commonwealth

Greetings. My name is Barbara McDowell Dowdall, retired English Department Head at A. Philip Randolph Career Technical High School, daughter of a Philadelphia branch librarian and former member of Philadelphians United in Support of Public Schools (PUSPS), many of us now in the Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools (APPS). Our interest and advocacy for Philadelphia public schools is long-term and based on years (decades) of experience as school staff and family of students and graduates.

In a recent op-ed, Debra E. Kachel (a former library coordinator in the Ephrata, Pa. school district, adjunct professor at Antioch University in Seattle, Wash.) shared key information on the value of school libraries with certified teacher librarians.

Who should teach our kids the difference between real and fake news? Our librarians                                      

{Excerpts follow} Teaching students critical information skills is a job delineated to school librarians according to the Library Model Curriculum part of the Standards Aligned System, developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education.

It’s described as a “comprehensive, researched-based resource to improve student achievement,” the Model Curriculum includes such topics as:

  • Evaluating diverse media
  • Drawing evidence from sources
  • Determining point of view or perspective
  • Differentiating fact from opinion

More than 1,200 school librarians in our state have received training on the Library Model Curriculum and are embedding these learning objectives in their daily lessons, along with digital literacy skills.

However, not all students are receiving this instruction due to a lack of school librarians. Pennsylvania does not require schools to have certified school librarians although our state prison libraries are so required.

School districts with over 25% ethnic minority students and high poverty have fewer school librarians that those with high poverty alone, according to a national NEA study published in 2016.

This is illustrated in districts like School District of Philadelphia whose students are 86 percent non-white and 75 percent economically disadvantaged.

They [we] have only 8 librarians for 134,000 students.  

Yet according to a 2012 study of Pennsylvania reading and writing test scores, we know that students who are poor, black, and Hispanic benefit proportionally more than students generally when they have a full-time certified librarian than those who don’t.

We need to ask why some students deserve and have access to quality school library programs and librarians who teach students critical information skills and why some students don’t. {Question for members of the SRC, Dr. Hite and all citizens of Philadelphia}

Who should teach our kids the difference between real and fake news? Our librarians: Debra E. Rachel

A new statewide legislative initiative to require state-certified school librarians in every public school is in the works from the Pennsylvania School Librarians Association and Representatives Mark Longietti (D) and Thomas Murt (R). Can we count on members of the SRC and Dr. Hite to join vigorously in this effort?