Thursday, December 27, 2007

The great Wikipedia debate: should it be quality or quantity?

Janice Tibbetts
Vancouver Sun: Thursday, December 27, 2007

There is a war raging behind the scenes at Wikipedia that is threatening the online encyclopedia's mantra of being a forum "where every human being can freely share the sum of all knowledge."

A dispute over whether volunteer administrators have become too deletion-obsessed has produced two clashing factions within the ranks of Wikipedians, sparking enthusiastic and sometimes ugly sparring on blogs and discussion groups.

On one side are the come-one-come-all inclusionists, who argue there are no space restrictions, so why not include articles that have limited interest?

On the other side are the deletionists, who counter that the hugely popular compendium -- which marked its two-millionth English entry this fall -- should focus on quality rather than quantity.

Wikipedia administrator Andrew Lih, a former media professor who is writing a book about the six-year-old venture, has accused it of developing a "soup Nazi culture," referring to the fierce gatekeeper on the TV program Seinfeld who tossed out customers if they didn't comply with the arbitrary rules at his soup stand.

"One of the things I noticed in the summer of 2007 is that I started to see a sharp, sharp turn in what people considered newsworthy or inclusion-worthy, things that I thought would be pretty obvious a year or two ago," Lih said.

While Wikipedia invites readers to edit and add to entries, only about 1,000 volunteer administrators -- picked from the legions of regular contributors -- can delete or resurrect articles.

Thousands of entries are discarded daily, the vast majority because they are ridiculous by anyone's standard or because they are considered to be inaccurate vandalism.

Some entries meet the rules for "speedy deletion" and can be eliminated on the spot. Others are shipped to an articles-for-deletion page for a debate on whether they meet inclusion criteria.

"Wikipedia now is more about being cautious, erring on the side or removing stuff rather than keeping stuff, and that's a huge cultural shift from the beginning days, when it was 'let's keep adding stuff,'" said Lih, noting that new entries have dropped dramatically.

"The preference now is for excising, deleting, restricting, information rather than letting it sit there and grow."

Lih, a deletionist-turned-inclusionist, confesses that he switched sides after one of his articles about a new social networking site, called Pownce, was wiped off Wikipedia by an administrator who dismissed it as free advertising. Lih hastily resurrected it.

Simon Pulsifer, one the world's most prolific Wikipedians, said he has noticed lately that some of his earliest articles have vanished, including one on Ottawa's second-tallest building, Minto Metropole.

He said he waited a few days and then quietly restored the entry, hoping nobody would notice.

"I always get annoyed when something I've written has been deleted," said Pulsifer, who parks himself in the inclusionist camp.

"What makes Wikipedia strong is having wide coverage," said Pulsifer, who has written about 3,000 articles and contributed to about 90,000 more.

"More articles attract more users and it doesn't really matter how large [an article] is, as long as all the information can be easily verified and accurate and ensured to be neutral."

A Wikipedia entry on Pulsifer, who gained fame for being the biggest contributor to the online encyclopedia, was on the chopping block last year but it survived after contentious debate.

Three months ago, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales found himself at the centre of a week-long deletion furore after he posted a single-sentence entry on Mzoli's Meats, a butcher shop and restaurant in Guguleto township near Cape Town, South Africa.

Only minutes after the entry appeared, it was deleted by a young administrator who declared that it met the criteria for speedy deletion because the restaurant was too obscure to be noteworthy.

After much debate, which included accusations that Wales was getting preferential treatment, the article survived.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Canadian Library Association Speaks Out About Copyright

Librarians won't go quietly

Chicage Daily Southtown: December 23, 2007

BY Angela Caputo, Staff writer

On trips to the school library, Lieb Elementary fifth-grader Salvatore Rizzo rarely visits the reference section anymore because books like encyclopedias, he says, are filled with "old news."

Instead, the 10-year-old prefers to log on to the Internet to do his school research. So he's not bothered at all by a decision to swap librarians for technology instructors in his school district this year.

But as librarians increasingly are swapped for aides or technology instructors, and literature takes a back seat to technology, library professionals are pushing back. They're calling on state education officials to require all Illinois school districts to employ certified librarians, also known as information specialists, who are trained to develop both print and electronic curriculum.

Local educators are balking at the plan, though, because they say it's too expensive to hire certified librarians and it's hard to find qualified candidates.

"Any time there's a rule that requires districts to hire, and there's no funding provided, it's a problem," said Ben Schwarm, a legislative director with the Springfield-based Illinois Association of School Boards. If approved, school districts would have until 2010 to comply with the policy.

The proposal comes at a critical time for school districts that increasingly have eyed library staff for cuts as a way to save money while, at the same time, expanding their collections to include computers, interactive whiteboards and other forms of technology.

"This is what a library once was," said Greg Porod, principal of Lieb Elementary in Bridgeview, as he ran a hand across the top of a steel shelf lined with children's books.

"And this is what we're trying to merge," he said pointing across the media center to a couple of dozen computers in the room.

Summit Hill School District 161 has accomplished that by hiring library aides to handle the day-to-day operations, while a single district-wide library director oversees the media center curriculum. The decision has freed up money to hire technology instructors in each of the Frankfort district's schools, Supt. Keith Pain said.

"I don't think our kids are losing out now," said Pain, who estimates it would cost an extra $300,000 to add certified librarians to each school. "I'd rather have the choice to spend that money on small class sizes," he said.

But for a cash-strapped district such as Ridgeland School District 122, the decision to replace librarians with technology instructors was made to save money and wire students into digital learning. Now, during periodic visits to the media center, students typically are shepherded to computers where they use the Internet for research.

Locating books, unshelving them and then flipping through pages is pretty much a waste of time, fifth-grader Jezmine Mizyed said.

"It's quicker (to) just go to the Internet," the 10-year-old said.

Retired school librarian Lou Ann Jacobs, who serves on the board of the Illinois School Library Media Association, said that's just the sort of narrow instruction she's hoping the new training mandate would help to reverse.

"There's the curriculum end of (being a librarian), and that's missing when you don't have certified folks," Jacobs said, who added a school librarian's primary role should be to teach research strategies and to instill a love of reading.

"Would (certified media specialists) help students learn more? Yes," Porod said. "But they're still gaining with what we have." In District 122, the technology instructors are responsible for maintaining the book collections of each school's library and helping children check out materials.

Students with a strong media center in their school perform better on standardized tests, according to a research report the Illinois School Library Media Association sponsored in 2005.

"This is not a luxury. It's at the center of learning," said National-Louis University education professor Gail Bush, who is overseeing the launch of a new program to train information specialists. School librarian certification at National-Louis follows the industry standard requiring 24 credit hours of coursework in addition to a teaching certification.

"It creates a standard that helps to build a better educational environment," she said.

Because certified librarians are in such short supply - nearly one in four Illinois school districts reported a staffing shortage last year, according to figures compiled by the state board of education - administrators anticipate a new mandate would make it even tougher to fill the jobs where candidates can be scarce.

A search for a certified media specialist this school year in South Holland School District 150 yielded only two qualified candidates, according to Supt. Jerry Jordan. In contrast, classroom positions usually attract 25 or so candidates, he said.

And the person who took the job recently decided she'll stay only through June. So already the district is seeking applicants for next fall.

"You've got to start looking," Jordan said. "It's difficult to find someone."

In parents' book, librarian cuts go too far

Families in Spokane launch what has grown into a statewide effort to protect schools' guardians of the shelves.

By Stuart Glascock, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer December 23, 2007

SEATTLE -- As has happened in other states, cash-strapped schools in Washington are dropping librarians to save money: This year, Federal Way cut 20 librarian positions. Spokane reduced 10 librarians to half-time. Darrington cut two librarians. A school in Marysville eliminated its half-time librarian.

Libraries are open less, their programs minimized, jobs combined. In many cases, part- timers with little formal library training are replacing skilled veterans. In rural Pomeroy, a school now employs a combination custodian-librarian: She opens the library after cleaning the locker rooms.

One school's parents said: Enough is enough.

Convinced that children and education suffers when librarians disappear, a loose-knit band of Spokane families launched what has become a statewide campaign to bring school librarians back from the brink.

The parents blasted e-mails about an online petition to everyone they knew. They posted fliers at coffee shops, bookstores and public libraries. They began an e-mail newsletter and advertised the campaign on social networking websites. They gave presentations to education professionals and camped out at school board meetings.

As their expenses grew, they sold T-shirts to raise money to fund trips to the state capital in Olympia, where they've become fixtures at hearings on school finances.

This month, they hand-delivered 2,500 signatures to a state government committee examining Washington's arcane school-funding system. "We did it to find out if anybody cared," said Layera Brunkan, who started the petition drive with Susan McBurney. Their children's elementary school was affected by the cuts.

"We realized that the school libraries are hemorrhaging, and it was far worse than we ever imagined," said Layera Brunkan.

State legislators, accustomed to professional lobbyists and official representatives of public education's many special interest groups, embraced the parents-turned-activists.

GOP state Rep. Skip Priest was buttonholed by the Spokane parents. He sits on the Basic Education Finance Joint Task Force, which will recommend education funding changes to the Legislature next year.

The district Priest represents, Federal Way, axed 20 school librarians this year.

"Librarians embody what is important for education," Priest said. "Lisa is reminding us all how important it is to fund K-12 adequately at the state level."

The Spokane parents "gave people around the state an opportunity to say, 'Yes, this is important,' " Priest said. "That is special -- not unique, but it's unusual, because here's a couple of concerned parents who are doing more than writing or e-mailing. They're expressing views clearly and forcefully and providing a website so that others who agree can express their views as well."

Nationally, statistics on school library staffing are elusive, said Nicolle Steffen, director of Library Research Service, a Denver-based agency that collects research about libraries. However, she said unequivocally that schools across the country struggle with library funding.

In Colorado, educators are trying to demonstrate a connection between student achievement and librarians in schools. One achievement test score there notes whether the school has a librarian, Steffen said.

"It seems pretty clear to us that librarians matter," she said. "Having a library with somebody in it is important. When you have a trained librarian who works with teachers, that's when you make a huge difference."

The National Commission on Libraries and Information Science urged Congress this year to support certified school librarians under the No Child Left Behind Act. School library media programs and student achievement are critically linked, the commission said.

The number of school library media specialists varies widely from state to state and district to district, said Julie A. Walker, executive director of American Assn. of School Librarians. School library funding tends to track overall education funding, she said. South Carolina and Arkansas have the highest percentage of librarians in schools, nearly one per school, because of statewide legislative mandates, and California has the lowest because of the lingering impact of Proposition 13, Walker said.

Despite budget pressures, some schools have maintained and expanded their libraries.

At Auburn Riverside High School in a growing suburb about 25 miles south of Seattle, Lisa Gallinatti manages a collection of 21,000 books and runs a computer lab with about 50 workstations.

She teaches students about the research process, helping students determine the best sources of information. She teaches students the difference between a search engine and a database.

("When you search the Web, you don't always find quality," she said. "Databases are more accurate." Internet searches church out results based on popularity or paid placement.)

Each day hundreds of students use the library; teachers collaborate with her and her two assistants.

Educators call it a shining example of a school library that works.

But Gallinatti knows that hers is an endangered species.

"It's disheartening. Every school year, there's a new school district that is making cuts," Gallinatti said.

To stem the loss, the parent group in Spokane hopes to change the way schools value and pay for librarians. In general, the group wants the education code to designate school librarians an essential part of every child's basic education. Local school districts, then, would have fewer options when it came to making cuts.

Studies across 19 states tie healthy school libraries to student performance, said Marianne Hunter, past president of the Washington Library Assn. She credits the "fired-up" parents for the issue's traction in the state.

Layera Brunkan and McBurney, who started the petition drive, both say they feel passionately about the issue. They are active on behalf of their children -- each has two -- and as role models for them.

But more pressingly, they believe it is a unique time to stand for a worthwhile cause -- to get school librarians off the endangered list.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Ottawa accused of caving in to Hollywood on copyright


Globe & Mail: 2007 Dec. 22

The Conservative government hasn’t even released its proposed copyright reform legislation, but already a showdown is brewing between media producers demanding protection from tech-savvy pirates and the grassroots efforts of thousands of Canadians who believe the bill will be unjustifiably restrictive.

As a result, what was once a low-key issue in Ottawa is morphing into a potential political storm.

Bemoaning the influence of “Hollywood lobbyists” on the federal government, Canadian librarians yesterday added their voice to the noisy chorus of people opposing a new copyright bill that has yet to see the light of day.

The Canadian Library Association is urging Ottawa to ensure its imminent copyright legislation does not attack Canadians who copy music and videos for their own use.

Don Butcher, the association’s executive director, said he supports laws that crack down on piracy, but is worried Ottawa will go too far.

“This is a battle between Hollywood lobbyists versus the average Canadian,” he said yesterday at news conference on Parliament Hill.

“Over the past few weeks, Canadians across the country have demonstrated that they have serious concerns about the shape of Canadian copyright legislation.”

Mr. Butcher later pointed to the May visit to Parliament Hill of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to support his claim that Hollywood interests are pressing Canada about piracy.

With thousands of iPods, MP3 players and new computers wrapped and ready for placement under Christmas trees across the country, a debate is raging over how much it should cost to load up the devices with music and movies.

Federal Industry Minister Jim Prentice was widely expected to introduce a new copyright law that would bring Canada in line with the World Intellectual Property Organization Copyright Treaty aimed at reducing piracy.

However, Parliament recessed for the year without any bill, creating an unusually heated debate over file sharing and a proposed law that no one outside of government has ever seen.

Critics worry the proposed law will go far beyond what’s needed to meet WIPO standards, and will be a clone of the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

That act criminalizes the production of methods to circumvent access control, even when the copyright itself isn’t broken – for example, breaking the access control on a CD and downloading the tracks onto a computer or other device for personal use. Critics say a Canadian version would harm free speech and research efforts, especially security research.

There have also been questions on whether the new law would allow Canadians to move media such as audio and video from one device to another, and whether it would be legal to make backup copies of items such as CDs, or if a user would have to purchase a new disc every time an old one became damaged.

A grassroots campaign opposing the proposed copyright bill has unfolded over the past few months, led in large part by University of Ottawa law professor Michael Geist. But in the past few weeks, the campaign seems to have expanded. Large groups have recently formed on websites such as Facebook – where the “Fair Copyright for Canada” group boasts more than 32,000 members – expressing concern over possible limits on file sharing.

Those on the other side of the showdown are firing back.

David Baskin, legal counsel for the Canadian Music Producers Association, called Mr. Butcher’s comment about Hollywood lobbyists a “cheap shot.”

“The term Hollywood lobbyist is just a cheap-shot method of attempting to denigrate the interests of those who invest in and create the works that people enjoy,” he said.

The arguments of those opposing copyright reform are unacceptable, he said.
“The person who creates should work for free. That’s fundamentally what these people are arguing,” he said.

Having seen the devastation of Internet file sharing on the music recording business, movie and television producers want laws to prevent the same loss of revenue.

Stephen Ellis, who chairs the copyright committee of the Canadian Film and Broadcast Television Association, dryly referred to the music industry as on the “bleeding edge” of the file-sharing revolution. Because a digital music file is much smaller than a movie or television show, it is much easier to distribute online.

But technology has quickly caught up and new laws are required so that Canadians pay for the entertainment they enjoy, Mr. Ellis said.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


OLA: 2007 Dec. 19

Halton Catholic District School Board has the distinction of being the first Catholic school board in North America known to have removed Philip Pullman's ten-year-old novel, The Golden Compass, from its school library shelves. It removed all three books in the series. The Toronto Star says that it did so in spite of the Board's review committee recommending that it be left on shelves.

There is at least one other Catholic school board in Ontario reviewing the book and American Libraries On-line reports that one school in the United States has it under review, while a second that had removed it has now reinstated it.

Greater Sudbury Public Library declined to delete The Golden Compass from its 2007 list of books for 4th–6th-graders participating in the library’s annual Battle of the Books competition after a parent's complaint.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

ALA to provide live Webcast of top children/teen literary awards

ALA: 2007 Dec. 18

(CHICAGO) The American Library Association (ALA) will provide a free live Webcast of its national announcement of the top books, video and audiobooks for children and young adults - including the Caldecott, King, Newbery and Printz awards - on January 14 at 7:45 a.m. EST. The award announcements are made as part of the ALA Midwinter Meeting, which will bring together more than 10,000 librarians, publishers, authors and guests in Philadelphia from January 11 to 16.

Unikron, a streaming content provider, will host the ALA’s Webcast. Online visitors will be able to view the live Webcast the morning of the announcements by going to . This link is not yet live, but librarians and others interested in following the action online should bookmark and use this URL - instead of the ALA home page - on January 14. The number of available connections for the Webcast will be limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. The press release announcing all of the winners will be available online at at 10:30 a.m. EST.

For ALA Midwinter Meeting participants, the press conference will be held in the Pennsylvania Convention Center Ballroom B and doors open at 7:30 a.m.
Awards to be announced January 14 are:

Additional information on the ALA Youth Media Awards can be found at

Adult book awards also announced during the conference include: Notable Books for Adults, the Black Caucus of the ALA Literary Awards and the Stonewall Awards. For more information on ALA literary awards, please visit:

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Google Knol--a rival to Wikipedia?

SLJ: December 16, 2007

Let's keep an eye on this one. This week, the folks at Google announced its new Knol project in the official Google blog. A select group of people were invited field testing this beta effort...

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Canadian copyright bill delayed

Experts discuss why Canadian lawmakers should seek more public consultation to avoid legislation that stifle competition and accessibility

IT Business: 12/15/2007 6:00:00 AM

Canada's new copyright legislation is proving to be more controversial than the government may have anticipated.

A bill to amend the Copyright Act was expected to be introduced Thursday by
Industry Minister Jim Prentice. That did not happen.

Public policy activists are claiming it was delayed by a groundswell of opposition, pointing to the extensive coverage of this issue in the press, calls and emails to the minister and massive growth of the Fair Copyright for Canada Facebook group, which surpassed 20,000 members.

The controversy centers on claims that the proposed legislation will fall in line with the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), passed by Congress ten years ago.

That American law provides tough penalties for those found copying digital materials. Common technology-enabled practices, such as TV time shifting, sharing music and video files, and copying CDs to portable MP3 players, or even backing up some computer files could be illegal under DCMA.

Software developers, Internet service providers and scientific researchers have also been impacted by DCMA which has stifled competition but failed to put a dent on piracy, according to Phillipa Lawson, director of the
Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic (CIPPIC).

An open house at the Minister's riding office in Calgary a week ago turned into a sizeable rally on the topic, putting the Minister on the defensive.

Despite the vociferous opposition no one outside the cabinet has seen the draft bill.

Critics as well as proponents will now have to wait to see its contents when Parliament resumes in late January.

A spokesperson for the Minister said the bill would only be introduced once Prentice and Heritage Minister Josée Verner were satisfied that it was ready for Parliament's consideration.

Public advocacy activists, such as Michael Geist Canada Research Chair of Internet and E-commerce Law at the
University of Ottawa say the government bowed to pressure from the U.S. and copyright lobby groups.

"We know that they held discussions with the Americans, and we know that they did not consult with the Canadian public," said Geist.

Yet he sees a "tremendous opportunity" for Canada to come up with model legislation that is fair to copyright holders as well as consumers and the public interest.

"This is of enormous interest to Canadians, who are now more savvy about copyright" Geist emphasized. "They see how this could impact their freedom of expression, and they want to be consulted."

This view is echoed by CIPPIC's Lawson.

She hopes that delay in introducing the legislation signals that the Minister is willing to listen to Canadians' concerns about copyright legislation. CIPPIC has called for a broad public consultation process.

"Maybe this is a government that listens to the public. This will be a really important test of that."

Lawson acknowledged that she had not seen the bill, yet she believes it was not a good sign that the government was prepared to move ahead despite indications that this legislation was imbalanced in favour of corporate interests.

"In order to achieve the ultimate goal of copyright legislation," she argued. "You have to find that delicate balance between the protection of economic rights and openness and accessibility.

"What's thrown everything out of whack is the digital environment. We're seeing a transformation of the marketplace that renders past business models obsolete. But the people who have a vested interest in those business models don't want to let them go."

Geist and other critics believe that the protective measures in the U.S. DMCA are excessive, and that it is possible to satisfy both sides in the debate.

Referring to the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO) Internet Treaties that Canada signed in 1997; he notes there are fair dealing provisions there that were largely ignored in the U.S. legislation.

According to Lawson, there is ample evidence now that the US approach is not working.

"If laws don't reflect social consensus of what is fair and just, they will not be respected. And that's what we're seeing."

But she is also concerned that DMCA is being used for unintended purposes, such as stifling competition, while having a negligible impact on piracy.


Friday, December 7, 2007


Dec. 7, 2007
Ministry of Education

VANCOUVER – School districts from across B.C. are meeting to showcase innovative teaching practices and display their best ideas for improving student achievement, Education Minister Shirley Bond announced today.

“We’re pleased that district teams are coming together to share their projects, teaching methods and strategies to improve student achievement throughout the province,” said Bond. “The Learning in Action Showcase demonstrates some of the great work being done to help every student achieve their best, in school and in life.”

The second annual Learning in Action Showcase features the work of 44 B.C. school districts. Each district will present one innovative teaching practice under the themes of leadership, literacy, the first 10 years, middle years to secondary, and equitable futures. The showcase offers an opportunity for educators to celebrate the creative ways they are helping to improve student achievement in their districts.

“The BCSTA is once again very proud to be involved with the Learning in Action Showcase,” said Penny Tees, president of the BC School Trustees Association (BCSTA). “The showcase provides a wonderful opportunity for us all to share successful practices and learn from each other. It also highlights the innovation and dedication of teachers, district staff and school trustees throughout the province.”

The Ministry of Education, the BCSTA and the BC School Superintendents Association (BCSSA) have worked in partnership to host the Learning in Action Showcase, a highlight of the BCSTA’s Innovation Academy, underway in Vancouver.

“The research is clear that what matters most in improving student learning is strong instructional practice,” said Geoff Jopson, superintendent for the West Vancouver School District and president of the BCSSA. “The Learning in Action Showcase provides a wonderful opportunity for some of British Columbia’s most creative and inspiring teachers to share new strategies with their colleagues from across the province. We have a world-class system, and this is public education at its best.”

The Province is working to make B.C. the best-educated, most literate jurisdiction on the continent. The government introduced legislation in the spring to help improve student achievement by making boards of education more accountable for student results, providing students and parents with more choice, and increasing support to school districts.

1 backgrounder(s) attached. 1 factsheet(s) attached.

Lara Perzoff
Ministry of Education
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For more information on government services or to subscribe to the Province’s news feeds using RSS, visit the Province’s website at

Thursday, December 6, 2007

MIT Launches New Web Site for Educators

Some Provinces Score High In Literacy Study

The Epoch Times: 2007 December 6

A highly-regarded international study that puts Canadian fourth graders among the most literate fourth graders in the world has some provinces beaming with pride. But the results were far from uniform.

In Canada, only Alberta,
British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Ontario and Quebec participated in the Progress in International Reading Study (PIRLS). And while the other 39 countries participated as national units, Canada participated by province.

Overall, Western
Canada did very well.

In the final tally, Russia took top honours with a score of 565, Hong Kong came second with 564 and Alberta came third with 560. Singapore was fourth with 558 and British Columbia was fifth, also with 558. Luxembourg squeaked past Ontario with 557, and the Big O' scored 555. But that is as good as it got for Canada.

Nova Scotia was 16th with a score of 542, just ahead of the
United States' 18th place score of 540. With a score of 533, Quebec came in 23rd.

According to the test's ranking system, there is no statistically significant difference between the top five scores, so Alberta and British Columbia have bragging rights to the most literate fourth graders in the world.

Zoë Cooper, a spokesperson for Alberta Education, said the study confirms that "Alberta students are among the best."

One reason for such literacy excellence could be that Alberta has special funding that gives school districts money for discretionary spending. Districts can use the money for anything from traveling libraries to literacy projects to finding ways to get parents reading with their kids.

"[Districts] direct the resources to where they are needed, to improve the areas that need a little more attention," said Cooper.

She said Alberta is always looking at areas that need to be improved and the province takes the results as confirmation they are on the right track.

"Alberta can say that our students are well prepared to participate in the global workforce," Cooper said.

That sentiment was echoed by B.C.'s education minister, Shirley Bond.

"We're quite pleased that we've done as well as we did," she said. "We want to be the best educated, most literate jurisdiction...on the continent."

To do that B.C. will have to beat Alberta in the next PIRLS to be published in 2013. The province is already working on a game plan that includes early education.

One program, called Strong Start BC, uses extra school space (due to declining enrollment) for drop-in sessions open to children under five. Parents and caregivers can bring their kids and participate in activities including stories, music and art led by qualified early childhood educators.

The program has a side benefit of helping recent immigrants learn English as a second language. Bond is looking forward to seeing the program establish 80 centres over the next year. Ontario was also proud of its seventh place score, said the province's education ministry spokesperson Patricia MacNeil.

Like Alberta, Ontario has extra funding available for school districts that are not doing as well. Ontario also has a program that has placed 3,500 university and college students in 54 of the province's 72 school districts to provide tutoring for students that are falling behind.

A program used in Ontario helps teachers and administrators from different districts share best practices and learn how other schools succeed.

"It really helps the professionals that work with our students every day learn and learn from each other," said MacNeil.

She said the ministry relies on feedback from teachers to determine what is needed in schools. "The efforts that were put in place are showing great results... it shows that we are on the right track."

The Nova Scotia
Department of Education issued a statement proclaiming pride in its score. The statement acknowledged Nova Scotia was outscored by Alberta, B.C. and Ontario "but ranked significantly higher than Quebec."

While Quebec scored well above the international average of 500, it was 27 points behind Alberta's 560 score. According to Pierre Foy, director of sampling and data analysis with the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, the group that did the PIRL Study, 40 points is equivalent to year of schooling.

"A difference of 5 points is not all that big, but 10-15 points starts to be important," said Foy.

Quebec and Ontario were the only provinces to participate in the 2001 PIRL Study. Since then, Ontario improved by 6 points and Quebec slipped by 4, but the drop is not considered statistically significant.

Girls scored significantly better than boys in all countries and had an international average of 17 points over boy's results.

The study also found that children score better if there are children's books in the home. There was a 91 point difference between children with more than 100 books at home and children with fewer than 10.

Canada also fared well in another recent international survey. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development tested 400,000 15-year-olds in 57 countries in science, math and reading, with an emphasis on science. Canada came in third with a score of 534.
Hong Kong placed second with a score of 542 and Finland soared above both countries with a score of 563. Taiwan came a close fourth with 532.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007


Ministry of Education: Dec. 5, 2007

VICTORIA – For the fourth consecutive year, B.C. is presenting the province’s school districts with $5 million to help students build better literacy skills, bringing the four-year total to $20 million, Education Minister Shirley Bond announced today.

“Our literacy innovation grants are making a real difference in the lives of students,” said Bond. “The work we are doing to improve literacy is one of the reasons international tests like PIRLS and PISA are ranking our students as some of the best in the world.”

Across the province, most school districts and independent schools are focusing their efforts on areas of highest need, decreasing literacy gaps between boys and girls, and Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students. Last year, for example, the Sunshine Coast school district’s literacy programs helped teachers identify struggling readers, increased understanding of what helps students succeed, improved Aboriginal literacy, and increased the effectiveness of mentoring and buddy-reading systems.

“Over the last three years, we’ve seen great progress from many students who were struggling with reading,” said Greg Russell, board chair of the Sunshine Coast school district. “Last year alone, the number of children in our program who are meeting or exceeding the required reading levels went up by almost 50 percent.”

Making these grants available for a fourth year means districts can expand literacy programs from early learners to middle and secondary programs focusing on struggling readers. Some districts are also choosing to develop summer reading and family-focused literacy programs. This year, each school district is also being provided with funding to help develop a co-ordinated district literacy plan.

“B.C.’s school districts face a diverse set of challenges, from geographic to cultural, as they work to increase literacy levels,” said Bond. “No single solution is going to be the answer for all districts, but our literacy innovation grants allow every district to lead a collaborative effort to build vibrant, literate communities.”

Boards of education are now responsible for leading the development of district literacy plans with their community partners. The Ministry of Education is broadening the focus of this year’s literacy innovation grants to support districts in this important work. All districts and independent schools may submit a proposal for an innovation grant. Once the proposals have been received, grant amounts are determined based on student population and overall literacy needs.

The $20 million in four-year funding for innovative literacy programs and the co-ordination of local literacy efforts supports the Province’s Pacific Leadership Agenda and will help B.C. achieve its goal of being the best-educated, most literate jurisdiction on the continent.

Since 2001, the government has invested over $130 million in literacy for British Columbians through the Province’s literacy strategy, ReadNow BC. These programs have delivered approximately $32 million in literacy funding for schools, teachers, parents and others; $25 million for new textbooks; $30 million for early learning; $25 million for adult literacy; and $15 million for libraries.

Lara Perzoff
Ministry of Education
250 356-5963
250 920-9040 (cell)

For more information on government services or to subscribe to the Province’s news feeds using RSS, visit the Province’s website at

ALA President Loriene Roy responds to attempts to remove

ALA President Loriene Roy responds to attempts to remove

ALA: December 4, 2007

ALA President Loriene Roy responds to attempts to remove "The Golden Compass" from library shelves

CHICAGO - The following is a statement issued by American Library Association President Loriene Roy regarding efforts to remove "The Golden Compass" from libraries and schools.

"This week, the movie, ‘The Golden Compass,’ based on the first book in Philip Pullman's fantasy trilogy entitled ‘His Dark Materials,’ will debut in theatres across the United States. The movie has triggered a boycott campaign sponsored by conservative religious organizations that believe the movie and the books are an attack on Christianity and the Catholic Church. The groups are urging parents not to see the movie or purchase the books.

"The call to boycott the filmed version of ‘The Golden Compass’ has inspired a parallel effort to remove the novel and its companion volumes from libraries and schools. Much like efforts to ban the Harry Potter books, fear and misinformation are driving the effort to deprive students and library users access to Pullman's critically praised books, which are recommended by both religious and secular critics.

"It is one thing to disagree with the content of a book or the viewpoint of an author; it is quite another thing to block access to that material because of that disagreement. Removing a book from a school or library because the author is an atheist, or because a religious group disagrees with the book's viewpoint, is censorship that runs counter to our most cherished freedoms and our history as a nation that celebrates and protects religious diversity.

"We encourage librarians, teachers and parents to resist the call to censorship. Censorship results in the opposite of true education and learning. Young people will only develop the skills they need to analyze information and make choices among a wide variety of competing sources if they are permitted to read books and explore ideas under the guidance of caring adults.

"We realize, of course, that not every book is for everyone. Parents know their children best and should guide their children’s reading. If parents think a particular book is not suitable for their child, they should guide their child to other books. But they should not impose their beliefs on other people’s children.

"By resisting the call to censor and boycott ‘The Golden Compass,’ we send the message to young people that in this country they have the right to choose what they will read and that they will be expected to develop the ability to think critically about what they read, rather than allowing others to do their thinking for them."

Monday, December 3, 2007

Vancouver forum on student achievement seeking participants

The Vancouver Sun: Monday, December 03, 2007

VANCOUVER - The B.C. government is looking for parents interested in attending a forum in Vancouver next month to discuss student achievement in public, independent and first nations school.

"This forum not only provides parents the opportunity to gain a greater, first-hand understanding of the education system, but it also allows us to hear feedback about what's working and what isn't from their perspective," Education Minister Shirley Bond says in a release today.

Parents and legal guardians are encouraged to apply online (, and the education ministry will chose participants at random, while ensuring all parts of the province and all types of schools are represented.

The forum - called the Parent Congress - is scheduled for Jan. 28, 2008. The deadline for applications is Dec. 21.

The theme for this year's congress is Working Together: Parents as Partners in Education.

"Our government believes that parents have an important role to play in education," Bond says in the release.

"The Parent Congress is another way we're giving parents a greater voice in what their children learn at school and how they view their achievement."

For more information on education in B.C. keep checking
Janet Steffenhagen's blog here.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Is BC Minister of Education lying or simply not looking at the data provided to her?

Attention News Editors:

VANCOUVER, Nov. 29 /CNW/ - On Channel M's newscast on Wednesday evening,
BC Minister of Education Shirley Bond called the Vancouver Elementary School
Teachers' Association and the Vancouver Secondary Teachers' Association
presidents "irresponsible" for citing the facts on class size and class
composition in Vancouver schools.

These facts come straight from the Vancouver School Board
Superintendent's "Report on School Organization" which was adopted by the VSB
on October 15th, as per Section 76 the BC School Act. The Minister of
Education has long since had this information available to her.

"I'm shocked that the Minister would criticize us for sharing information
from a public document which she herself requires of school boards," says Glen
Hansman, President of the Vancouver Elementary School Teachers' Association.

"The Minister of Education needs to closely examine the information that
school districts have already supplied her," continues Glen Hansman. "It's
completely irresponsible for her to claim now, at the end of November, that
she doesn't have the information that Vancouver trustees, teachers, and
parents know full well about our schools. I suspect the truth is that she is
simply ignoring what continues to be a very serious problem."

In the Vancouver school district alone, more than 1200 classes are either
over the class size guidelines in the school act and/or have more than three
students with special needs. Furthermore, support for all students has been
severely reduced. Vancouver has lost dozens of specialist teachers, including
learning assistance teachers, ESL teachers, and librarians.

"Vancouver schools have hundreds of classes with over 30 students," Glen
Hansman points out. "Vancouver schools also have hundreds of classes with more than three students with a special education designation. All of this
information is in the Superintendent's report, and the Minister of Education
has this information. To claim otherwise is completely disingenuous."

"Furthermore, the fact of the matter is that the province has a
$4.2 billion dollar surplus," says Glen Hansman. "But instead of putting that
money into health care and education, it's being thrown away on
out-of-control-spending megaprojects like the new convention centre in
Vancouver. You have to wonder about their priorities!"

Note: The minutes from the Vancouver School Board meeting where the
Superintendent's report was adopted can be found here:

Copies of this public document are available directly from the VSB's
Secretary-Treasurer Brenda Ng. It was sent to the Minister of Education in

For further information: Glen Hansman, President, at (604) 873-8378,
(604) 813-5318 (cell), or

You can judge a school by its libraries - and city's are a disgrace

Baltimore Sun: 2007 November 29

A new National Endowment for the Arts study links drops in test scores and limited academic achievement to a decline in time spent reading. This self-evident finding offers a clear challenge to all educational reformers across Maryland and particularly in Baltimore, with its shamefully deficient school library system.

If we are to take the report seriously, every school should have a library, and each library should have a trained librarian and be filled with books and opportunities to read. Parents should judge a school by its library and commitment to reading. School districts and their leaders should be judged on the quantity and quality of reading opportunities.

Sadly, the report helps to highlight a counterintuitive truth about our educational institutions: School is often not a place that supports reading.

The chairman of the NEA, poet Dana Gioia, summarizes the problem this way: "As Americans, especially younger Americans, read less, they read less well.

Because they read less well, they have lower levels of academic achievement. ... Poor reading skills correlate heavily with lack of employment, lower wages and fewer opportunities for advancement."

For Baltimore in particular, where school may be the only opportunity for many of its young people to have the kind of reading experience the report importunes, the situation is bleak. With some of the worst test scores in the state, city schools have some of the worst school libraries - if they have libraries at all.

Only 139 of the city's more than 190 schools report having a library, and many of these libraries are inadequate. The Maryland State Department of Education's report "Facts About Maryland's School Library Media Programs 2005-2006" notes that of schools that reported having libraries, only 3.6 percent of city schools met state collection-size standards and only 29.9 percent met state staffing standards.

City leaders have acknowledged the problem. For instance, then-Mayor Martin O'Malley promised in his State of the City address in February 2001: "By 2005, every school's library will be converted to a state-of-the art information resource center." In the July 2001 issue of School Library Journal, a coming renaissance for city school libraries was also proclaimed by school board member and developer C. William Struever and others. While these promises remain unkept, at least the need was acknowledged. No current city or school leader has focused on the problem.

Last month, George Washington Elementary School in Baltimore was designated a national Blue Ribbon school. Lost in media reports of the unusual accolades given to a Baltimore school was the opening of its new library. That library came not from the city or state, but from the Greek Orthodox Ladies Philoptochos Society of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, a donation valued at more than $40,000 in materials, equipment and volunteer labor. The school's principal, Susan Burgess, is quoted as saying that the donated library "filled a void that we have endured for more than a decade."

That void still exists across Baltimore and in too many places across Maryland. For all our reform efforts, curriculum changes, high-stakes testing, high-powered superintendents and district CEOs, citizens now have a simple measuring stick: Do we give students the opportunity to read? Do we have books for them to read? Why is whatever else we're doing in school more important than reading? Do we promote a culture of reading? Do we ourselves read?

To read or not to read: That is the question. We know the answer. We also know the consequences.

Michael Corbin teaches at the Academy for College and Career Exploration, a Baltimore public high school that has no library or librarian. His e-mail is

Minister thrilled as B.C. children score big in world reading tests

Janice Tibbetts
CanWest News Service
Thursday, November 29, 2007

OTTAWA -- Canadian Grade 4 students are among the top readers in the world, with children from B.C., Ontario and Alberta outscoring their counterparts in almost every country on a global literacy test.

The 2006 international testing of 215,000 nine- and 10-year-olds placed Alberta third of the 40 countries and five provinces that took part, outranked only by the Russian Federation and Hong Kong.

B.C. students finished in fourth place and Ontario students were sixth. The other Canadian participants, Quebec and Nova Scotia, did not fare as well, ranking 16th and 23rd.

"I would say, in general, congratulations Canada," said Ina Mullis, of the International Study Center at Boston College in the United States, which conducted the study for the International Association for the Evaluation of Education Achievement.

"Most of the provinces seem to be doing so well. In general, Canada has a strong curriculum and a strong instructional and assessment system that keeps an eye on progress."

The U.S. ranked 18th and England was 19th, both slipping in the ratings since 2001.

B.C. Education Minister Shirley Bond described her province's results as "outstanding"and Kathleen Wynne, Ontario's education minister, praised students, teachers and parents for their hard work that has made the Ontario students "among the best in the world in reading."

The large-scale study found that Canadian children came out on top when it comes to reading stories and novels for pleasure. Students in Alberta, B.C., Ontario and Nova Scotia secured the first four spots in terms of the percentage of students who read daily when they are not in school. In all four provinces, at least 50 per cent of Grade 4 children read daily or almost daily.

Once reading on the Internet was thrown into mix, Canadian children dropped down the list.

The study also showed that girls solidly outperformed boys, reflecting a gender gap exposed repeatedly in other reports.

The researchers highlighted a strong connection between reading skills in Grade 4 and parents telling preschoolers stories, singing songs, and playing with alphabet toys and word games. Also, there was a significant difference in test scores between children who had more than 100 books at home and those who had less than 10.

B.C. literacy shines on global stage

Grade 4 students place fourth in tests assessing best of 40 countries

Janet Steffenhagen, Vancouver Sun, Janice Tibbetts, CanWest News Service
Vancouver Sun; CanWest News Service
Thursday, November 29, 2007

British Columbia students have aced another international test, with Grade 4s out-performing their counterparts in almost every other country in a global literacy assessment last year.

Nine- and 10-year-olds from B.C. finished fourth in the test of 215,000 pupils from 40 countries and five Canadian provinces -- out-ranked only by the Russian Federation, Hong Kong and Alberta.

Ontario pupils came sixth, while Quebec and Nova Scotia were further down the list at 16th and 23rd.

"B.C. is a world leader in literacy and this international assessment proves that," Education Minister Shirley Bond said in a release moments after the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study results were announced in Boston.

"This is the first year B.C. [pupils] have participated in this assessment and the results are outstanding."

Literacy experts agreed B.C. has much to celebrate but cautioned against forgetting about those pupils -- about one in five -- who struggle to read.

"It's great that we're doing well, but there are still lots of children who are not succeeding," said Mark Campbell of Literacy BC.

The 2006 PIRLS found a strong relationship between Grade 4 reading scores and literacy activities in the home, which confirms the importance of reading to preschool children, Campbell said in an e-mail response to a Vancouver Sun query. But many thousands of parents don't have sufficient literacy skills to do that, he added.

"Breaking that intergenerational cycle of low literacy is an urgent priority so that everyone will have the opportunity to share in the many economic and social benefits of strong literacy."

John Anderson, a University of Victoria education professor, said B.C., Alberta and Ontario generally do well in international assessments and that should be a comfort to parents.
But strong performance when compared to other countries doesn't discount provincial assessments that regularly find roughly 20 per cent of Grade 4 pupils can't read as well as expected.

"We are doing quite well [internationally]. But compared [with] expectations here in B.C., improvements could be made," he said in an interview.

Ina Mullis, co-director of the International Study Centre at Boston College in the United States, which conducted the study for the International Association for the Evaluation of Education Achievement, acknowledged Canada's strong showing.

"I would say, in general, congratulations Canada. Most of the provinces seem to be doing so well. In general, Canada has a strong curriculum and a strong instructional and assessment system that keeps an eye on progress."

The U.S. ranked 18th and England was 19th, both slipping in the ratings since 2001.

The study suggests B.C. students are more likely than others to read for pleasure, with 53 per cent saying they do so every day or almost every day.

Only the Russian Federation did better, with 58 per cent.

At least half of the Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia students also said they read daily when not in school, although Canadian children dropped down the list when reading on the Internet was included in the calculation.

The study also showed girls solidly outperformed boys, reflecting a gender gap exposed repeatedly here and abroad.

The differences in scores between boys and girls were not as wide in Canada as in most countries, and Ontario narrowed the gap slightly from 2001, when the province participated in the last international testing of Grade 4 students.

B.C. had one of the smallest differences between male and female achievement of any jurisdiction in the world, Bond noted in a statement that also credited the Liberal government's literacy strategies overall for the strong B.C. results.

Ontario pupils improved in their scoring although students in Quebec, the only other province that participated last time around, experienced a slip.

All five provinces, however, performed well above the average score of 500 on the test, which involved an extensive battery of assessments focusing on literary and informational reading skills. Alberta pupils scored 560 points, B.C. students 558, Ontario 555, Nova Scotia 542, and Quebec 533.

The study also set broad reading achievement benchmarks of advanced, high, intermediate and low.

Alberta placed third overall in its percentage of pupils who read at the top levels, with 17 per cent achieving the advanced designation and 57 per cent reaching the second-highest category.

B.C. and Ontario tied for fourth place in the percentage of pupils achieving the top benchmarks.
The researchers, who dissected factors that influence achievement, highlighted a strong connection between reading skills in Grade 4 and parents putting in time with their preschool children by telling them stories, singing songs, and playing with alphabet toys and word games.

There was a significant difference in scores between children with more than 100 books at home and those with less than 10.

The study involved 148 schools in B.C., 150 in Alberta, 200 in Ontario and Quebec, and 201 in Nova Scotia.

Overall worst performers on the global tests were students in South Africa, Morocco, Kuwait, Qatar, and Indonesia.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007


For Immediate Release
Nov. 28, 2007
Ministry of Education


VICTORIA – British Columbia students have one of the highest literacy levels in the world according to the latest international student assessment, Education Minister Shirley Bond announced today.

“B.C. is a world leader in literacy and this international assessment proves that,” said Bond. “This is the first year B.C. students have participated in this assessment and the results are outstanding. I’d like to thank our students, parents, educators, trustees and support staff for their efforts and commitment to improving literacy for all students in our province.”

The Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) was released today by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement, a global co-operative of national research institutes and governments. More than 215,000 Grade 4 students in 40 countries and five Canadian provinces participated, including over 4,100 students from British Columbia.

British Columbia, Alberta and Ontario were recognized by PIRLS as three of the highest achieving participants. B.C. was recognized as having one of the smallest differences between male and female student achievement of any jurisdiction in the world. Girls generally score higher on these tests than boys, and in many countries by a wide margin. The PIRLS survey questions also identified B.C. students as having a high level of reading for pleasure, a key indicator of success.

“Literacy is a top priority for this government and clearly for British Columbians,” said Bond. “The results we see here show that our ReadNow BC literacy strategy is working to make our province the most literate jurisdiction, not only in North America, but in the world.”

PIRLS measures overall reading achievement and looks at success factors both at home and at school. The study notes that major contributors to reading success in Grade 4 include:

  • High levels of reading in the home and reading for pleasure,
  • Early (pre-kindergarten) literacy, and
  • Strong school safety and high school satisfaction levels for both teachers and parents.

PIRLS is conducted by the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study & PIRLS International Study Center at Boston College. The study assesses a range of reading comprehension strategies for two major reading purposes – literary and informational.

Since 2001, the government has invested over $125 million in literacy for British Columbians through the Province’s literacy strategy, ReadNow BC. These programs have delivered approximately $32 million in literacy funding for schools, teachers, parents and others; $25 million for new textbooks; $30 million for early learning; $25 million for adult literacy; and $15 million for libraries.

1 backgrounder(s) attached.

Media contact:
Lara Perzoff
Ministry of Education
250 356-5963
250 920-9040 (cell)

For more information on government services or to subscribe to the Province’s news feeds using RSS, visit the Province’s website at

The Canada Council for the Arts announces the winners of the 2007 Governor General’s Literary Awards

Ottawa, November 27, 2007 – The Canada Council for the Arts announced today the names of the winners of the 2007 Governor General’s Literary Awards, in English and in French, in the categories of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, children’s literature (text and illustration) and translation.

Golden Compass loses shine

Catholic boards concerned about book's 'anti-God' message

Kingston Whig-Standard: 2007 November 28

The Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board is combing its elementary school libraries, looking for copies of the controversial children's fantasy novel The Golden Compass.

If a copy is found, a review of the novel - already pulled and under scrutiny by two other Catholic school boards in the Toronto area - will be conducted by local board officials and parents to determine if it is appropriate for students to read.

"When it came to our attention, I asked our team if it was in our schools. It's not a prescribed book," said board director Michael Schmitt, who admitted he'd never heard of The Golden Compass before receiving a call from the Whig-Standard.

The acclaimed 1995 novel, the first in a trilogy written by British author Philip Pullman, is being reviewed by both the Dufferin-Peel and Halton Catholic school boards in the Toronto area after they received complaints about its "anti-God" content.

The fantasy books feature a parallel universe, homosexual angels and a church that wants to separate prepubescent children from their demons before they lose their innocence - a metaphorical reference to sex.

"I can almost guarantee the book is there," said Queen's University assistant English professor Shelley King, who has taught The Golden Compass in her courses. "I think it's a pity if children don't get to read it. My perspective is that education is about free inquiry." King said the book received the Carnegie of Carnegies award this year for being the best of the Carnegie Medal award winners of the last 70 years.

And it's ironic, she said, that the movie The Golden Compass, starring Nicole Kidman, which has stirred up the controversy among Catholics in the U.S., has removed references to religion in an attempt to be less controversial and appeal to a wider audience.

Pullman has been spoiling for this fight. In 2001, he said he was "trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief."

This week he called American Catholics attacking his books "nitwits."
King understands that local Catholic educators would be concerned about having the book in their schools if they regard it as "something that challenges the doctrine."

"For them, there is a conflict," King said. "Either you decide you want to engage with the ideas in the book and, if that's what you see as the role of education, you leave the book in the library."

The Dufferin-Peel board is conducting what it calls an informal review in which staff have been assigned to read the book and report back to administrators.

In Halton, the book has been pulled from elementary school library shelves and principals instructed not to distribute the December Scholastic book order because The Golden Compass is on the sales list.

"I had never heard of the book, to tell you the truth," said Schmitt. "At this point, we're just going to familiarize ourselves with the book. It came out in 1995. This isn't a fresh book.

"What we'll probably do is ask some people to read it. I would probably ask a superintendent, a principal, a teacher and a parent or two. We would want to know what the concern is with the book."

Schmitt said he will ask his assigned readers to determine if the book is "appropriate" for students and, if so, for which age groups. King said that all the honours Pullman has received for his books are well-deserved.

"What's hard to explain is just how good Pullman is literarily. He is a writer of particular excellence. The books are designed to really teach children about literary culture - to make them better readers," she said.

Even if the Algonquin board decides to pull The Golden Compass, King said she wouldn't characterize the move as censorship. "It's within a [doctrinal] context.

Theoretically, the child is still free to go to a public library and read that book."
Local school reading lists haven't aroused too much controversy.

Last year, the Limestone District School Board received a complaint from the Canadian Jewish Congress about the book Three Wishes by author Deborah Ellis.
The book consists of interviews with children involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and made the Silver Birch Awards list as a book recommended for students to read.

The congress felt the material wasn't appropriate for children in grades 4 to 6.
In the end, a local committee decided to keep the book on the elementary reading list with the proviso that teachers read it to their students and use it to stimulate discussion.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Libraries have important role in our schools

Cowichan News Leader & Pictorial: 2007 November 24

Susan Tomusiak

When the Roman Empire was in decline, the historian Marcellinus complained, “The libraries are closing forever, like tombs.” The statement reflected a time and place marked by the deterioration of education, thought and culture.

Are we approaching the dark Ages — a medieval state of mind where an enlightened civilization turns in on itself and retreats in ignorance? In one of the most prosperous provinces in one of the richest countries in the world, why do we not have the budget for school libraries?

This letter is in response to a disturbing article entitled “Time to turn page on school libraries?” Our school libraries are not stagnant, out-of-touch bastions of a past age waiting to be boarded up. Why does the article refer to school libraries as “book rooms?” Book rooms are storage areas. School libraries are active,
vital and thinking environments.

If the view is that books are obsolete, will School District 79 be the first in the country to sponsor book burnings and turn our safe and comfortable libraries into bingo halls.

The article quotes trustee support for literacy. Support for literacy can be a glib and convenient comment to hide behind. What is difficult is the planning and implementation of strategies to attain the goal. All democracies recognize the school library has a major role to play.

The Internet is not a replacement for books. It has enriched the potential for meaningful research, but, it requires a sophisticated set of skills to use effectively. Unless raw data goes through process, there is no understanding and no knowledge.

At a recent conference, the welcoming speaker was Mike McKay, a former principal in SD79 and now superintendent of Surrey. He told the audience, “Our district has a proud history of support for teacher-librarians and investment in school libraries. Contrast this vision with the doom and gloom scenario orchestrated by this district. Are our students less worthy of this vision?

Last year the district closed two schools with the rationale larger schools would provide better services to students. Less than a year later, there is speculation the school libraries may have to go. What possibly could be next?

“It’s a budget issue.” If trustees of public education and administrators of this district are not aggressively and consistently pursuing adequate funding to support school libraries, they are defeated too easily.

Susan Tomusiak is the advocacy chairwoman of the Cowichan District Teacher-Librarian Association.

Books for Children

Globe & Mail: Saturday, November 24, 2007

Today's Weekend Edition has a 20-page pull-out section on children's books. Some of the articles are at

You can see the entire online edition at your public library if they have PressDisplay in their Electronic Resources.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

School board pulls ‘anti-God’ book

Halton's Catholic trustees and staff to review fantasy that is `apparently written by an atheist'

Toronto Star: 2007 November 20

Halton's Catholic board has pulled The Golden Compass fantasy book – soon to be a Hollywood blockbuster starring Nicole Kidman – off school library shelves because of a complaint.

Two other books in the trilogy by British author Philip Pullman have also been removed as a precaution, and principals have been ordered not to distribute December Scholastic book flyers because The Golden Compass is available to order.

"(The complaint) came out of interviews that Philip Pullman had done, where he stated that he is an atheist and that he supports that," said Scott Millard, the board's manager of library services.

"Since we are an educational institution, we want to be able to evaluate the material; we want to make sure we have the best material for students."

Following a recent Star story about the series, an internal memo was sent to elementary principals that said "the book is apparently written by an atheist where the characters and text are anti-God, anti-Catholic and anti-religion."

Millard said if students want the books, they can ask librarians for them but the series won't be on display until a committee review is complete.

The Golden Compass is the first of the "His Dark Materials" trilogy of books and have been likened to the Harry Potter series.

In the U.S., the Catholic League has accused the books of bashing Christianity and promoting atheism to children. The league is urging parents to boycott the movie, which opens Dec. 7.

Catholic schools in Toronto and York Region have the books on their shelves and report no complaints. The public library in Burlington, in Halton Region, lists The Golden Compass as suggested reading for Grades 5 and 6. The award-winning tome was voted the best children's book in the past 70 years by readers across the globe.

While the book was first published in 1995, complaints are surfacing now because of the buzz surrounding the movie, said Rick MacDonald, the Halton board's superintendent of curriculum services.

The Nov. 1 article in the Star prompted several emails from principals wondering if the book is appropriate for schools.

Pullman has made controversial statements, telling The Washington Post in 2001 he was "trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief." In 2003, he said that compared to the Harry Potter series, his books had been "flying under the radar, saying things that are far more subversive than anything poor old Harry has said. My books are about killing God."

The board is unsure how many copies of the Pullman books are in circulation at its 37 elementary schools because they were not purchased centrally and are not a part of the curriculum.

"We have a policy and procedure whereby individual, parents, staff, students or community members can apply to have material reviewed. That's what happened in this case," MacDonald said, adding he did not know who lodged the complaint.
The complaint was received about a week and a half ago, and it is standard procedure to remove books from the shelves during the review.

Any move to ban the book would be taken to trustees.

Millard said he's still trying to find additional members for the review committee, but has sent copies to those already on the committee, such as MacDonald.

Milton pastor David Wilhelm, who is also a trustee and a committee member, said hasn't read the book yet and won't make a judgement until he has. He did not know when the review would be done.

Richard Brock, who heads the Halton elementary branch of the Ontario English Catholic Teachers' Association, said he's had no complaints from teachers about the books being pulled.

The board, he added, is within its rights to restrict distribution of the Scholastic flyer. "With elementary students, you're always going to bend in the direction of caution anyway," he said.

Scholastic Canada received a complaint via email from the board, as well as a handful of other negative emails that appeared to be part of a campaign begun in the U.S.

Halton's Catholic board has 28,500 students at 45 schools in Burlington, Halton Hills, Milton and Oakville.

Last February, the Dufferin-Peel Catholic District School Board removed the award-winning Snow Falling on Cedars from library shelves and teaching materials after a parent complaint about sexual content, but later reinstated the book after a review.

Avid readers aren't ready to curl up with a Kindle instead of a good book

Vancouver Sun Editorial
Thursday, November 22, 2007

If's new electronic book reader, Kindle, which is the size of paperback but can store 200 books, represents the future of reading, what will future generations put on their bookshelves?

What will young backpackers trade with fellow travellers on the road? How can spontaneous conversation strike up between strangers brought together by a familiar book cover? Do we ignore the evidence that children raised in a home with books become better readers? And can you curl up with Kindle like you can with a bound volume of the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

"There's something kind of comforting about a book -- the texture of the paper, you can dog-ear the corners -- it's like a comfort food," said Patricia Schroeder, president of the Association of American Publishers.

What's more, a book can prop open a door, steady a table with a wonky leg and give off heat when it burns. Can a Kindle do that?

Amazon says its new book reader, priced at $399, will do for books what Apple's iPod did for music. But the iPod is a technological toy developed to harness revenue for the recording industry, which was devastated by the phenomenon of peer-to-peer file sharing.

Book publishing, on the other hand, is doing just fine. Statistics Canada reported last year that book publishers took in revenue of more than $2 billion in 2004, up 12.5 per cent from the previous survey of the industry in 2000. Profits were $235 million, representing a profit margin of roughly 11 per cent. Two-thirds of the 330 book publishers surveyed were profitable.

Thousands of new titles entered the Canadian marketplace in 2004, Statistics Canada said. Book publishers produced 16,7760 new titles, up 6.8 per cent from 2000. They reprinted 12,387 existing titles, a 19.4-per-cent increase over the four year period.

In the United States, 40 per cent of adults said they read books for leisure during 2002, compared with 27 per cent who surfed the Internet for fun, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report in 2004.

Book sales are strong, which is why has grown into the world's largest Internet retailer. Electronic book sales accounted for less than one per cent of the $24.2 billion in sales for U.S. publishers last year.

Now, e-books have been around for the better part of a decade and just haven't caught on. Whether this latest generation of devices, using a new kind of display called electronic paper and rapid wireless downloading of titles from the Amazon collection of some 90,000 titles, is enough of an enhancement to engage readers remains to be seen.

There's no indication when, or if, Kindle will come to Canada, leaving Canadians with little alternative but an analogue anachronism -- curling up with a good book.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Roy responds to NEA Study, supporting libraries key to increasing youth literacy

ALA: November 19, 2007

CHICAGO – The following is a statement issued by American Library Association President Loriene Roy regarding the release of the National Endowment for the Arts' (NEA) latest literacy study, "To Read or Not To Read: A Question of National Consequence."

"With the release of Monday’s reading study 'To Read or Not to Read,' the NEA issued a call to action. The study’s findings—that reading for pleasure has declined among teens and adults, resulting in lower standardized test scores and poor reading comprehension skills—are proof positive that parents, educators, librarians and anyone who supports literacy must act now to ensure that future generations see reading as a dynamic, engaging activity.

"The American Library Association (ALA) is more than happy to take up this cause.

"According to the Public Library Data Service (PLDS) Statistical Report, published by the Public Library Association (PLA), only half of U.S. public libraries have a librarian dedicated full time to young adult services. More than 10 percent reported they do not offer programming targeted to young adults.

"Yet young adults who have access to libraries are using them more than ever. In a poll conducted for ALA by Harris Interactive in June 2007, 93 percent of survey respondents ages 13-18 indicated they had access to a public library; 88 percent indicated they had access to a school library. Of those who had access to a library, 30 percent reported that they visited their public library more than ten times per year, while 71 percent indicated they visit their school library at least monthly.

"Teens need libraries, in locations that are easy for them to access, in every community. They need teen services librarians and school library media specialists who can encourage them to read just for the fun of it, through initiatives such as the Young Adult Library Services Association’s (YALSA) Teen Read Week™. They need teen services librarians and school library media specialists who can give the right book to the right teen at the right time.

"They also need adults to support them. The NEA study found that most American adults are not reading even one book a year. Improving teens’ attitudes toward reading begins with adults. Parents and caregivers can model good reading habits at home by setting aside time to read every day, by keeping books, magazines and other reading material around the home and by making sure their children have access to libraries. They can become regular library patrons, since the library is a free resource available in most communities throughout the United States. Adults who care about literacy can vote for increased funding and support legislation that gives libraries the resources and the funds they need to serve patrons at all ages and reading levels. (For more ideas on how adults can support teen reading, visit and read YALSA’s Ten Ways To Support Teen Reading.)

"It is clear that we, as a nation, need to address the alarming statistics that the NEA unveiled in 'Reading at Risk.' An excellent first step is making sure that our libraries are well-funded and staffed by qualified professionals who have a passion for making everyone—child, teen or adult—into a lifelong reader."