Letter to Minister for Education and Reply

To Julia Gillard,
Minister for Education
December 2007
Cc:To Sharon Bird
Federal Member for Cunningham
 
Dear Ms. Gillard,
 
I would like to express my appreciation for the copy of Labor’s literacy and numeracy policy (April 2007) sent to me recently by Sharon Bird.  It contains many good ideas, with a focus on greater support in terms of education funding and staffing from the Commonwealth to the states.
 
I do, however, find such policies worrying when they make no reference to books, and very little reference to reading (as opposed to literacy).
 
Further studies for consideration support the direct correlation between access to books and literacy.  Stephen Krashen, in his book The Power of Reading, reviewed hundreds of research studies which explore the power of free voluntary reading.  He found that the reading a young person chooses to do, as opposed to teacher required reading, is “the best predictor of reading comprehension, vocabulary growth, spelling ability, grammatical usage and writing style.” http://www.sdkrashen.com/
 
His research gives significant pointers to those designing school literacy programs, including:

1.    The amount read is critical

2.    A print-rich environment encourages more reading

3.    The larger school and public library collections, the more young people read

4.    Reading aloud helps

5.    Sustained silent reading programs help

6.    Encouraging young people to read helps

7.    Reading is its own reward

8.    Modeling by parents, teachers, and friends helps

 
Research on the impact of libraries over the last decade has shown that better school libraries — those with more books and better staffing — are associated with greater literacy development.
 
In his online article analyzing the decline in literacy scores in California, “Whole Language and the Great Plummet of 1987-92: An Urban Legend from California” (2002) Krashen  states:
 

The seminal study in this area was done by Keith Curry Lance and his associates, who found that school libraries in Colorado with better staffing and better collections had higher reading scores, even when factors such as poverty and availability of computers were controlled. These results were confirmed by other studies that showed that states with better school and public libraries earned higher scores on the NAEP fourth-grade reading examination. In addition, Warwick Elley reported a positive association in 32 different countries between the quality of a school’s library and the reading achievement of students. The Colorado results have been replicated in several other states, by Lance himself as well as by other scholars.

http://www.pdkintl.org/kappan/k0206kra.htm

School libraries make a difference.  Well-funded school libraries with professionally qualified teacher librarians who are experts on student reading have a dramatic impact on student literacy. Students are found to have higher reading scores, “even when factors such as poverty and availability of computers were controlled.”  An excellent summary of the research was done here in Australia by Michele Lonsdale: The Impact of School Libraries on Student Achievement (ACER, 2003).
 
Australian children are falling in the world literacy rankings (SMH, 5 Dec. 2007).  Over the past decade staffing and funding for school libraries has also been declining.  National statistics have unfortunately not been collected through government agencies, however a survey is currently being done by Edith Cowan University.  As a voluntary survey, the statistics will be a beginning.
 
Want higher test scores? A school librarian can make the difference.
 
My questions, then, are:

·      What can the federal government do to collect vital statistics on school library funding and staffing nationally?

·      What consideration is being made for the improvement of Australian school libraries in order to improve student literacy?

 
Thank you for your time and attention.
 
Yours sincerely,
Georgia Phillips
The Hub: Campaign for Quality School Libraries in Australia
Julia Gillard’s Responsephillipsresponse.pdf
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