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."

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Time to turn page on school libraries?

Cowichan News Leader: 2007 November 14

Even those who don’t endorse making library cuts concede they might be necessary in order to turn the page on the next budget.

Right now, the School District 79 board is exploring whether it can afford to have its libraries open full-time, an issue that was discussed during a series of recent SD79 community forums.

“Do we need to buy books anymore?” pondered parent Wendy Palou at a Chemainus group meeting. “Research skills are important.”

But with the Internet virtually giving students instant access to information, she was among several parents who questioned the relevance of books.

Meanwhile, some trustees staunchly defended the merit of libraries, stating they were troubled at suggestions of them going the way of the dinosaur.

“It grieves me that people feel that way about the library,” said Trustee Eden Haythornthwaite. “But I can’t help the way people feel.”

Currently, middle and secondary schools within the district have at least half-time librarians.

Most elementary schools have half-time librarians, but some have less, with some working just a few afternoons a week.

A school’s library time is based on student enrolment. It costs SD79 about $1.2 million annually to run book rooms the way it does. That includes wages and benefits, but not all learning resources.

SD79 board chair Brian Simmons has stated the district cannot afford to continue operating with its current level of services.

Trustee Barb de Groot, a former teacher-librarian at Quamichan middle school, appreciates the dilemma.

“I’m torn here,” she said. “I believe literacy is one of our main goals. And it is.
“I also know we have budget constraints.”

Recognizing there is a need for funding in the classrooms, de Groot said she would like to see a balance of resources.

“My concern is, if we start to keep teacher-librarians in place, where are we going to cut?” she asked. “I guess the question comes down to how you keep those resources close to kids.”

Linda McMenamin, SD79 director of elementary education, said librarians are an important way to connect children to authors and help support literacy.

Money spent on libraries goes toward staffing and resources and, like de Groot, McMenamin said that isn’t the only SD79 priority.

“There a million things that are vital in schools and that are important,” she said. “It’s a budget issue.”

McMenamin doesn’t count the Internet as a factor in this debate and said they couldn’t replace the humans that help instill a love of reading in children.

“We don’t see technology taking over for librarians and the job they do,” she said. “I’m very comfortable in saying libraries are important in schools and librarians are very important in schools.”

Monday, November 12, 2007

Librarians essential to education

Arizona Star Daily: 2007 November 12
Opinion by Ann-Eve Pedersen

"The library — staffed by a highly qualified teacher-librarian — is an integral and indispensable component of the unique learning environment created in each of the (Tucson Unified School) District's elementary, middle and high schools."
— Tucson Unified School District policy statement

There is no ambiguity in TUSD's statement about the importance of its library system, yet the district's Governing Board is considering eliminating elementary school librarians altogether in the 2008-09 school year...

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Librarians Hunt Children's Books With Porn Link

By Laura Kinsler of The Tampa Tribune
Published: November 6, 2007

TAMPA - Hillsborough County librarians spent much of Tuesday tracking down a series of children's books that referred readers to a telephone sex line.

Patricia MacMartin discovered the faulty phone number when her 9-year-old daughter asked to dial the 800 number in the back of her Magic Attic Club book.

She notified library officials and when they didn't remove the books, she checked out every Magic Attic book available from her local branch, the New Tampa Regional Library.

"She did the right thing," said Braulio Colon, spokesman for the Hillsborough County Public Library Cooperative. "We dropped the ball; no question."

The Magic Attic series, which is coordinated with play dolls, includes more than 30 titles targeting girls between the ages of 9 and 12. It was launched in 1994 and was sold in 2001 to entertainer Marie Osmond. The company folded in 2004, and the books are out of print.

A spokeswoman for Osmond said her doll company is not responsible for the book club number. "That product line was discontinued four years ago," she said. "There was nothing we could do. The phone company resold the number."

MacMartin said she understands Osmond's position but believes the publisher still holds some responsibility.

"You can still buy these books on Amazon," she said. "It would be different if you called the number and it was a bank or something."

Colon said Hillsborough County libraries have 78 Magic Attic books, which have been in circulation since 1998. Some of the books refer readers to a different phone number, which has been disconnected.

"There are several authors associated with the Magic Attic Club," he said. "We're working tirelessly to find them all. There's nothing inappropriate with the books.

We're just going to tear out the page that has the phone number for the book club."

Helping to change the world

Owen Sound Sun Times: 2007 November 8
Posted By Finlat-Stewart Anne

Sometimes I can't believe I get to do the things I do with real world-changers.

This past weekend I had the privilege of being involved in the annual conference of People for Education. I've been connected to this organization for about 10 years, ever since I looked up from what I thought were small local issues in my son's school to find the whole provincial education system was under serious threat. People for Education began with a group of parents at a public elementary school who were asked by their children's principal if they could raise some money for textbooks. Textbooks - they thought. Surely the government provides textbooks. From that moment they determined that they would divide their time equally between fundraising for things students needed and asking why the government wasn't providing these things.

This year John Ralston Saul gave the keynote address at the People for Education conference. He put Canadian public education in a broad historical framework. We here in the oldest continuous democratic federation in the world have long believed that the purpose of education is the creation of citizens. We have a strong tradition of public education, seeing it as the source of social equality and political liberty. Yet, said Saul, we have allowed ourselves to be sold a linear, utilitarian, "get-a-job" approach to education that threatens to institutionalize poor health, poor culture and poor citizenship.

For the past 11 years People for Education has been tracking resources that are and are no longer in our public schools. Although the most precipitous drops were between 1997 and 2003, the last four years haven't seen much reinvestment. Many discomforting trends have appeared in their annual reports, but the one that has always disturbed me and has captured the attention of John Ralston Saul on a national level is the effect of lack of policy on school libraries. How is it, Saul asked, that in one of the richest societies the world has ever known we have convinced ourselves that we are too poor to have libraries? Knowing as we do, without question, that the make or break point for real literacy comes when we are very young - how can we think that we are advancing civilization by reducing children's access to books?

According to People for Education's "Annual Report on Ontario Schools 2007", 20 per cent of elementary schools receive $500 or less per year from their school budget to purchase books and library resources, enough for no more than 20 or 30 books. This is the library's share of the provincial grant averaging $94 per student that also has to provide textbooks, workbooks, resource materials, instructional software, Internet and more. Boards and schools make different choices across the province - from $0 to $45,000 per school for library budgets - averaging 25 per cent of that from school fundraising.

Since the introduction of EQAO testing in grades 3 and 6, these students have been asked simply if they like to read. The question is the result of studies that have shown reading enjoyment is a prime indicator for student success. Other studies have shown that students in schools with teacher-librarians are more likely to report they enjoy reading, yet only 57 per cent of elementary schools now have a teacher-librarian either full or part-time, compared with 80 per cent a mere decade ago. Charts in the report showing the percentage of children reporting they like to read and elementary schools with teacher-librarians could be interchanged, the downward slope from 1997 to 2004 is so similar. A quote in the report from an elementary school in our own Bluewater board highlights the irony: "Despite the emphasis on literacy, the Ministry of Education neither recognizes nor provides adequate staffing levels for teacher-librarians."

Saul painted a vivid picture of the Canada he'd like to see. He described an existing Calgary complex that contains a high school, a Y with a day care and a youth centre, a rec centre with a pool and two ice rinks, a college with adult programs and at the heart - a public library. Saul believes schools should be community centres, open until 10 or 11 at night, full of services for adults and families including government services, wellness and recreation, and libraries should be the centre of schools.

The parents, educators, trustees, mayors, librarians, settlement workers and administrators who are part of People for Education gave Saul a standing ovation.

I always know I've been in the right place when I hear the phrase "we just want to change the world" at least once.

Anne Finlay-Stewart is a communications and marketing consultant who lives and works in Owen Sound.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Reading popularity growing among G.P. Vanier students

Comox Valley Record: 2007 November 2

There was a whole lot of reading going on at G.P. Vanier Secondary School last week as staff and students got into Teen Read Week, an event designed to get students into the school library, and behind a book.

“We do different things to bring teens in and interact with the library in a different way,” said teacher-librarian Mary White.

“It’s to get students to realize we are a big part of the school — we’re the hub.”
The library resembled a fun fair more than anything else at times throughout the week as students celebrated reading in a variety of ways.

Student artists were on hand to draw caricatures of staff and fellow students, play games and even took over the library during a marathon “all you can read” event. One of the most popular events last year and this year was the inclusion of the Play Station 2 game Dance Dance Revolution, a perennial student favourite.

The events are organized by a committee of 10 students and two teachers.
“They decide what we’re going to do, and they help run it,” said White.

White said the event has become so popular she actually has a waiting list of students who want to participate.

“They have to get permission from their teachers to miss regular classes,” said White, adding the events are fun and rewarding for both staff and students.

Monday was also National School Library Day, which was celebrated at Vanier as well, and October was Canadian Library Month.

“”We’re promoting school libraries and the differences they can make for both literacy and development.” said White.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Power of literacy transforms lives

Toronto Star: November 01, 2007 Andres Laxamana

"I couldn't read until I was in Grade 4."

The statement shocked me because it came from my partner, Adam. He was someone I had always known to be a voracious reader, an experienced teacher and one who has always stressed the importance of literacy and learning to his students.

How could someone neck deep in teaching literacy have flown under the radar for so long?

The dictionary defines literacy as the ability to read and write. What it fails to mention is that literacy goes beyond the decoding of words and sentences. Its true core is understanding and making sense of information. Its core is that of attaining knowledge.

The inability to read has a far-reaching influence and impact on one's life. Yet it is a skill we often take for granted. We neglect its direct impact on our health, social interactions, ability to learn and day-to-day functioning.

Just imagine not being able to read street signs or directions on how to take your medications or the price of apples at the market. Imagine not being able to fill out a job application, read the names of candidates on an election ballot or understand the latest headline in the newspaper.

Literacy not only has an impact on the individual, but also on our communities. Our nation's ability to prosper and to be competitive internationally is vitally related to our literacy levels.

Then why do 42 per cent of Canadian adults not have adequate literacy skills to perform everyday tasks? And why has the Harper government recently made $20 million worth of cuts to adult literacy programs?

Why was a mayor willing to close our public library system on Sundays, preventing Torontonians from learning and developing their reading skills at one of the most used public library systems in North America?

Why has the flawed funding formula forced Ontario school boards to divert funding for ESL teachers in order to heat schools, purchase classroom supplies and pay for other vital staff, and in doing so make it more challenging to teach English literacy skills to some of our newest and most vulnerable Canadians?

Why has the provincial government, which espouses the importance of developing literacy skills in our children, been so slow to change the funding formula and provide a full-time teacher librarian in every elementary school?

Is it just me or is everyone asleep at the proverbial wheel?

Beyond this being a silent issue and one accompanied by embarrassment and stigma, there is something every one of us can do to address our literacy problem:

Make reading a daily activity in your home.

Encourage children to read everything from novels and newspapers to cereal boxes because they will be developing important skills for life.

Support the efforts of literacy organizations such as Frontier College as it endeavours to promote and teach literacy and learning skills.

If you are reading this, you have a valuable skill that can be taught to someone: volunteer these skills with literacy organizations, community programs and libraries.

Support our public library systems, their role in promoting literacy and learning for all Canadians, and their child and adult literacy services.

Don't allow politicians and decision-makers to sweep this problem under the rug by neglecting to support literacy programs and libraries.

I asked Adam what finally got him to read. "It was my Grade 4 teacher who got me interested in reading the Hardy Boys novels." He said it may seem silly, but that one event totally transformed his world and his ability to learn and access new information. It likely affected his career path and his ability to share his enthusiasm for reading with others.

Literacy has the ability to transform lives. And as Adam states simply, "Literacy equals knowledge which equals power."

Andres Laxamana is a former member of the Star's Community Editorial Board.