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March 01, 1995 2 min read

Who’s Minding The Books?: A recent U.S. Education Department survey has revealed that fewer and fewer U.S. schools have libraries or media centers staffed by trained librarians or media specialists. Over the past few years, many educators have argued that state and local budget cuts were leaving school libraries understaffed and resource-poor. But until now, little hard evidence has backed up those claims. The November 1994 report, published by the department’s National Center on Education Statistics, states that the number of librarians and media specialists in public and private schools across the country tripled between 1960 and 1980. The growth rate slowed in the 1980s, however, and by the 1990-91 school year, library staffing was no longer keeping pace with growing student enrollments. In that year, the most recent documented in the study, more than a quarter of public school libraries had no professional librarian, and 8 percent had no staff at all. Small private and non-Catholic religious schools were even worse off; half employed neither a librarian nor a library aide.

Making The Grade: Many teachers of low-achieving high school students give considerable weight to such nonaca-demic factors as good attendance and hard work when calculating grades, according to a group of researchers who spent time last year interviewing teachers about classroom practice. In a report published by Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Effective Schooling of Disadvantaged Students, researchers Gary Natriello, Carolyn Riehl, and Aaron Pallas say the teachers offered a number of explanations for such grading practices, practices that could leave them open to criticism for lowering aca-demic standards. The teachers told the researchers that traditional measures of academic knowledge often don’t accurately show what disadvantaged students know and can do. A student who gives good answers in class discussions, for example, might draw blanks on quizzes. What’s more, the teachers said many of their students are often absent or distracted by problems at home. One teacher remarked: “I have a student who has been out a lot this term, and now it turns out she just didn’t have bus fare.’' The teachers told the researchers that they compensate for their students’ special difficulties by basing grades on a combination of class participation, journal writing, lab work, homework, and effort.

--Debra Viadero

A version of this article appeared in the March 01, 1995 edition of Teacher as Findings