Lobbying for spare change - or real change?
California School Library Association Journal, Spring 2006
Minnesota Media 2006
The lobbying efforts by library and technology associations are often frustratingly ineffective. Initiatives aimed at securing categorical funding, mandated staffing, or requirements for library or technology programs are usually ineffective. I propose library and technology organizations change the focus of their lobbying efforts to concentrate on a single objective: that technology and information literacy skills be considered a new “basic skill” that is taken as seriously as the other basic skills of reading, writing and computation.
I was delighted to read the following1 by Don Knezek, ISTE’s CEO:
A reauthorized NCLB should assess learners’ progress on the array of essential 21st-century literacies. It should hold schools accountable for how well they help students achieve the skills that maximize future opportunity. Let’s measure what’s real and meaningful as we prepare students to meet the world they will face. I look forward in 2006 to a lively and systematic debate about how we can improve NCLB and make it more relevant for today’s students.
I am no great fan of mandates. Local control, I’ve always felt, is the best control. A subtext of NCLB is more about discrediting public schools than about educating kids. But I am behind Don’s “wish” 100%. It’s the smart thing to do.
Federal legislative initiatives related to technology and/or school libraries have not been of much interest to me as the library and technology director of Mankato (MN) Area Public Schools. Most grants are targeted at school districts serving high poverty populations. Many federal dollars go to fund projects that are very local, are very limited in scope, are unsustainable, and have no broad state or national impact on education. Funding for E2T2 could double next year and my Mankato kids would not be better off because of it. E-rate accounts for less than half of one percent of our district’s technology/library budget - nice to have, but not critical. Federal programs directed at school libraries are funded at a minuscule level.
I believe my professional organizations, ALA/AASL, ISTE and MEMO (Minnesota Educational Media Organization), have approached legislative lobbying the wrong way - focusing on the means to accomplish a goal (mo’ money), when we should have been asking for the goal itself (required 21st century skills for which schools should be held accountable).
We need to change our lobbying strategies for a number of reasons:
1. Dollars follow requirements. If there is a lesson to be learned from NCLB, schools WILL fund educational efforts when there is the force of law behind them. While only partially funded at best, schools have ante-ed up for the planning, testing, materials, and staff development striving to meet the requirements that all children can read, write and compute on at least a minimal basis. Should NCLB also require that the 4th ‘R - information and technology literacy - be recognized as so vital to our children’s success that schools be held accountable for all students’ mastery of it, the funds for the planning, testing, materials, and staff development needed to make it happen WILL follow. And in all schools across the country.
I would predict that just as schools need reading, writing and math teachers – even when these skills are integrated and taught across the curriculum – so will they need information literacy and technology teachers -AKA librarians.
2. Advocacy is for students, not adults. Our professional organizations too often are seen as self-serving, self-promoting. We “advocate” for technology use, for libraries, for schools. We should be advocating the students and the benefits that they will receive as a result of better technologies, better libraries, better schools. Period. A better set of skills for survival in an information-based, high-tech economy is definitely one of those benefits.
3. May encourage more educators to get involved, both in politically and professionally. We’ve got a whole blogosphere that complains about the sad state of education, reactionary teachers, and students’ needs for 21st century skills. But are these smart, committed people doing anything legislatively about their concerns - such as working with professional organizations that hire lobbyists. It might be easier to get these folks to join ISTE, ALA/AASL, and state organizations if they articulate well-publicized legislative platforms that address issues they feel passionately about. This is particularly true for our younger members. Read this (and weep) from a young librarian’s blog:
ALA gets nothing from me. Not membership money, not time and effort, not publication, not conference attendance, certainly not conference participation. Not now, not ever. … I have thirty-some-odd years of career left to go, and ALA won’t benefit from a single solitary second of it. … If ALA had a whisker’s worth of relevance, mind you, that decision would hurt me too.2
I don’t mean to single out ALA here. Leaders in any professional organization should not be so smug as to think there aren’t young ed-tech Turks out there thinking the same about our organization.
Such a platform item would also re-energize the current members in our organizations who may now feel dispirited or burned-out.
I have small hope that most states or individual districts will seriously address the need for students to have 21st century skills while completely focused on meeting the current NCLB standards. I have small hope that any governmental body will mandate good library and/or technology programs, including minimal staffing and materials for either. This would change if NCLB took information and technology literacy skills as seriously as it does reading, writing and math.
We must lobby for the 4th ‘R - now!
1. Knezek, Don “My ‘wish list’ for ed-tech policy in 2006” eSchool News, January 1, 2006 (http://www.eschoolnews.com/news/PFshowstory.cfm?ArticleID=6023)
2. Salo, Dorothea “Bite Me” Yarinareth blog, January 7, 2006. (http://cavlec.yarinareth.net/archives/2006/01/07/bite-me/)
Article originally appeared on Doug Johnson’s Blue Skunk Blog (http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/)
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