by Lynn N. Baird, Stephanie Bailey-White, Ben Hunter, and Ann Joslin
Idaho’s children are not competitive in today’s world of a knowledge-driven economy. The statistics tell a story of chronic unpreparedness for life beyond high school.
- Nearly one in four Idaho students fails to graduate from high school with a regular diploma in four years.1
- Idaho ranks 46th of all states in college completion at 22.3 percent.2
- Nearly 5,800 students did not graduate from Idaho’s high schools in 2010; the lost lifetime earnings in Idaho for that class of dropouts alone totals over $1.5 billion.3
- The Go-to-College rate for first time freshman is less than 50%.4
Librarians, working together, have the ability to change this narrative. Librarians see children move through the informal and formal education systems. Starting with pre-kindergarten early literacy efforts in the public libraries (or in some communities, greeted with their first books in the hospital delivery room), public librarians become the first wave of child educators. When these children enter the schools, their school teacher-librarians offer opportunities for children to have library experiences in an independent setting. The public librarians continue to support informal learning and children’s access to these opportunities is dependent upon parental support (transportation and time and parental values). Throughout the school career, the classroom teacher (credentialed through institutions of higher education) may have the greatest impact on student research development. Finally, upon graduation, less than three in eight of these children will continue their learning in community colleges or four-year institutions.
In a perfect world, every child would be brought into a home that was filled with love. Part of this love would involve a commitment to create a nourishing environment for the child to successfully develop into a fully functioning member of society. However, parents come in many shapes and sizes, with no small share of distractions and demands for their time. Parents raise children as they, the parents, had been raised. We know:
- Idaho has a high percentage of families living in poverty. In 2010, 55 percent of infants born in Idaho received Women Infant Children (WIC) services.5
- Over 50% of public school children were eligible for free and reduced school lunches in 2010.6
- Research has shown a number of things about literacy and its impact on learning. Research has also shown that skills needed in the workplace are honed in very young children.7
- Children who start school behind tend to stay behind. Idaho Reading Indicator scores from 2010 show 18.5% of children entering kindergarten did not recognize three or more letters of the alphabet. Another 25% recognized fewer than 11.8
- A student within the age range of 16 to 24 years of age who comes from the lowest quartile of family income is about seven times more likely to have dropped out of high school than his/her counterpart who comes from the highest quartile.9
James Heckman, Nobel Prize laureate, notes that workers develop “soft skills” in pre-school that affect their abilities to perform on the job. In his longitudinal study of students over a ten year period the girls at age 27 who had preschool experience were 50% more likely to have a savings account. The boys at age 27 earned 50% more in salary if they had been in preschool.10
Faced with these larger truths, what can a librarian do?
Collaboration is a term being used in all sectors of the economy as a means of achieving greater good with existing resources. According to Kezar and Lester,11 businesses and other organizations recognized in the 1980s that “’siloed’ work with duplicative activities and a lack of communication and synergy across function was not working anymore.” This realization gave rise to an understanding that organizations needed to be reformed, following new ways of operating. This reflection led to the adoption of flatter organizational styles, more team emphasis, and more awareness of building partnerships and collaborations. Collaboration has many side benefits: it makes us work up because we want to deliver our best efforts to achieve the team goals; it makes us work differently because we are considering our problems from more diverse perspectives that make our solutions stronger and more adaptable; and it creates learning opportunities as we want to continue to contribute our skills to make a difference in our work.
Librarians are siloed based upon the types of institutions we work in. Public librarians have little contact with academic librarians who in turn have little contact with school librarians. We hold inter-agency meetings but we retain our identities by attending the meetings that we feel will best contribute to our specific library type. There are few opportunities for us to discuss universal issues.
The faces of our children, however, should provide a unifying theme for us. Or the fate of Idaho’s future economy may be the trigger. There are probably many different ways to project our concern based on the facts we see before us.
Librarians need to reach out to one another and address such questions as: how does my library make a difference to a child’s graduation from high school? What changes could I make in my behaviors that would make a child feel welcomed and safe? What do I know about the libraries and librarians in my community? Am I aware of challenges in the schools to provide library services? Do I know about public library services being curtailed due to funding? How can I help another library be successful in its mission?
If we take the time to explore our own communities, we may be able to develop strong networks. We may be able to provide information for our local leaders to help them understand the importance of librarians to our children. We may be better informed about how we collectively might help one another as well as ourselves.
The need is there. Are we willing to step forward to try to find ways to meet the need of our children and our future?
1 Editorial Projects in Education Research Center. 2011. “State graduation report: Idaho Department of Education”. http://www.edweek.org/apps/gmap/details.html?year=2011&zoom=6&type=1&id=ID
2 Alliance for Excellent Education. 2009. “Understanding high school graduation rates in Idaho” http://www.all4ed.org/files/Idaho_wc.pdf
4 Idaho State Board of Education. 2011. Idaho Public Higher Education Fact Sheet. http://www.boardofed.idaho.gov/communications_center/documents/publications/draft_board_fact_sheet.pdf
5 Idaho Division of Public Health, Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics, “WIC statistics”.
6 Idaho Dept. of Education. Statistics and Finance. Free and reduced lunch by district, 2010-11. http://www.sde.idaho.gov/site/cnp/statisticsFinance/
7 Heckman, J.J. 2008. “Schools, skills, and synapses,” Economic Inquiry, 46(3), pp.289-324.
8 Idaho Dept. of Education. Idaho Performance Data, IRI comparative reports for 2010-11. http://www.sde.idaho.gov/ipd/iri/IriAnalysis.asp
9 Alliance for Excellent Education. 2009. “Understanding high school graduation rates in Idaho.”
10 Heckman. 2008.
11 Kezar, A. J. and Lester, J. 2009. Organizing higher education for collaboration. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass, p.8.
Lynn N. Baird is Dean of Library Services at the University of Idaho; Stephanie Bailey-White is Projects Coordinator at the Idaho Commission for Libraries; Ben Hunter is Head of Cataloging and Collections at the University of Idaho Library; and Ann Joslin is the Idaho State Librarian.