This spring, within a week’s time, two things happened that made me angry. The first was the release of scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that showed African American 4th graders in Wisconsin (most of whom live in Milwaukee) had the lowest reading scores in the nation. Despite the limitations of such tests, the results confirmed what many educators already knew: Way too many Milwaukee children are not reading at an acceptable level.
The second was the district’s announcement of major cuts to local school budgets for next year. At the 400-student elementary school where I work, the projected cuts meant that, despite a modest increase in student enrollment, we had to cut an additional staff position. Given that in the past few years budget cuts had forced us to eliminate the music teacher, gym teacher, program implementor, half a secretarial position, and all of our regular classroom teaching assistants, we had little choice but to eliminate our librarian position. Similar cuts occurred throughout the Milwaukee schools, so it’s likely that next year the nearly 100 elementary and K-8 schools in the district will have only five full-time librarians.
The local media and policy makers expressed “outrage” on the first matter but ignored the second. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called for “greater accountability,” “firing bad teachers,” “linking teacher pay to performance,” and a number of other proposals. Local talk show hosts and columnists echoed the paper’s calls. Ignored was any recognition that the nearly 55 percent jobless rate in parts of the black community might impact children’s lives.
But, most tellingly, there was not one mention of libraries or librarians, or the need for children to have books in their homes.
Such silence is unconscionable. According to researcher and linguistics expert Stephen Krashen: