Supporting School Libraries and the Critical Role They Play
By Roberto Rodriguez
Thank you for your petition on the importance of ensuring that every child in America has access to an effective school library program. President Obama has stated that reading is the foundation upon which all other learning is built, and school libraries play a significant role in constructing and enriching that foundation. School libraries do much more than house books and store data: a school library can broaden the horizon of learning for students and link them with communities and experiences far beyond their own classroom and community.
Literacy is critical to the success of our students and to our strength as a nation, and the Obama Administration recognizes that all Americans -- children and adults -- need literacy skills to succeed in the dynamic and competitive 21st century economy. The Administration believes that if we want to give every child a fair shot in life, we must open doors of opportunity while they're young and teach them the skills they'll need to succeed. This means that one of our greatest responsibilities as citizens, as educators, and as parents is to ensure that every child in America cannot only read, but possess the skills to comprehend, analyze, and think critically about the text. School libraries are critical to making sure that this happens. School libraries are a place where our students can develop a love of learning and discover big ideas that help move the American story forward.
In 2010, President Obama proposed a comprehensive reform of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) -- known as No Child Left Behind -- which includes a new proposal requiring states to develop comprehensive pre-K through grade 12 literacy plans and to align federal, state, and local funds to provide high-quality literacy instruction. States would be asked to carry out strategies to improve literacy instruction statewide, such as supporting districts in identifying effective instructional materials and improving the knowledge and skills of teachers and librarians to support literacy instruction for all students. Improving library services is among the small number of literacy programs specifically highlighted as a use of funding through these grant programs -- and a key way in which the President is calling for increased resources for school libraries.
Congress has yet to act on the President's proposal. But in the meantime, the President is supporting the work of effective reading and literacy programs through initiatives already in place at the Department of Education. In his fiscal year 2013 Budget, President Obama requested $186.9 million for the Effective Teaching and Learning in Literacy competitive grant program, which would help States strengthen their literacy programs, especially in high-need schools, by developing comprehensive, evidence-based, preschool-through-grade-12 literacy plans and aligning resources to provide high-quality literacy instruction. This program builds on recent innovative programs at the Department, such as the Striving Readers program which funds comprehensive literacy efforts in States from birth through 12th grade, and consolidates a number of past funding streams supporting literacy and library services to provide states and districts with the increased flexibility to spend funds on the literacy programs that are most needed and will be the most effective for their students.
The Obama Administration remains committed to supporting school libraries and the critical role they play in providing resources and support for all students in their learning, to ensure that all students -- regardless of their circumstances -- are able to graduate from school ready for success in college and career.
Roberto Rodriguez is Special Assistant to the President for Education Policy