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Sunday
Jan082006

Lobbying for spare change - or real change?

I was delighted to read the following from "My 'wish list' for ed-tech policy in 2006" by Don Knezek, ISTE CEO, in eSchool News:

(2) Let's align NCLB's accountability mechanisms with the skills necessary for future success in the emerging workplace and society, and then both support and measure progress with those. Employers and civic life in this new century require nimble, critical thinkers at ease with technology and with the fact of change itself. We need citizens and workers who can access and analyze information from any media--whether it's text, image, sound, numbers, or other kinds of data.

A reauthorized NCLB should assess learners' progress on the array of essential 21st-century literacies. It should hold schools accountable for how well they help students achieve the skills that maximize future opportunity. Let's measure what's real and meaningful as we prepare students to meet the world they will face. I look forward in 2006 to a lively and systematic debate about how we can improve NCLB and make it more relevant for today's students. 

I am no great fan of mandates. Local control, I've always felt, is the best control. NCLB is more about discrediting public schools than about educating kids. But I am behind Don's "wish" 100%. It's the smart thing to do.

Federal legislative initiatives related to technology and/or school libraries have not been of much interest to me in the past. Most grants are targeted at school districts serving high poverty populations. Many federal dollars go to fund projects that are very local, very limited in scope, nonsustainable, and have no broad impact on education. Funding for E2T2 could double next year and I sincerely don't believe my Mankato kids would be better off because of it. E-rate accounts for less than .05% of our district's technology budget - nice to have, but not exactly critical. Federal programs directed at school libraries are funded at a piddly level.

Reflecting this past week on our school district's past and future, I'm beginning to believe my professional organizations, ALA/AASL, ISTE and MEMO, have approached legislative lobbying the wrong way - focusing on the means to accomplish a goal (mo' money), when we should have been asking for the goal itself (required 21st century skills for which schools should be held accountable). 

We need to change our lobbying strategies for a number of reasons:

  1. Dollars follow requirements. If there is a lesson to be learned from NCLB, schools WILL fund educational efforts when there is the force of law behind them. While only partially funded at best, schools have ante-ed up for the planning, testing, materials, and staff development needed to meet the requirements of making sure all children can read, write and compute on at least a minimal basis. Should, as Don suggests above, NCLB also require that the 4th 'R - information and technology literacy - be recognized as so vital to our children's success that schools be held accountable for all students' mastery of it, the funds for the planning, testing, materials, and staff development needed to make it happen WILL follow. And in all schools across the country. (I could not find in EdWeek's Quality Counts at 10, any mention of how states are doing teaching kids information/tech literacy. If I am not looking carefully enough, please let me know where to find this information.)
  2. Puts the organization higher moral ground. Our professional organizations too often are seen as self-serving, self-promoting. We "advocate" for technology use, for libraries, for schools. We should be advocating the students and the benefits that they will receive as a result of better technologies, better libraries, better schools. Period.
  3. May encourage more educators to get involved, both in politically and professionally. We've got a whole blogosphere who pisses and moans about the sad state of education, reactionary teachers, need for 21st century skills, etc. But are these smart, committed people DOING anything legislatively about their concerns - such as working with professional organizations who hire lobbyists. It might be easier to get these folks to join ISTE, ALA, state organizations if there were well-publicized legislative platforms in which THEY could believe. This is particularly true for our younger members. Read this (and weep) from a library science grad student's blog

ALA gets nothing from me. Not membership money, not time and effort, not publication, not conference attendance, certainly not conference participation. Not now, not ever. That’s what happens when you royally hack off the newbies, guys. I have thirty-some-odd years of career left to go, and ALA won’t benefit from a single solitary second of it.

If ALA had a whisker’s worth of relevance, mind you, that decision would hurt me too. Guess what. I don’t think it’s gonna.

I suppose some radical reinvention of the association might catch my interest again. Guess how likely I think that is.

And I don't think we ISTE leaders should be so smug as to think there aren't young ed tech turks out there thinking the same about our organization.

 
I have little hope that most states and individual districts will seriously address the need for students to have 21st century skills (beginning with Information/Tech literacy) while completely focused on meeting the current NCLB standards. This would change if NCLB took these skills as seriously as it does reading, writing and math. We must lobby for the 4th 'R - now!

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Reader Comments (13)

Doug,

Great thoughts, but here is a problem I see. Knezek is talking about EVOLUTIONARY change when what we need here is a REVOLUTION.

"[A reauthorized NCLB] should hold schools accountable for how well they help students achieve the skills that maximize future opportunity. Let's measure what's real and meaningful as we prepare students to meet the world they will face."

Eh? Where does NCLB - which calls for all students to perform above average on standardized tests - have anything to do with "real and meaningful" measurements? Actually, we should probably be glad that technology and library skills aren't tested by NCLB as the curriculum would be reduced to a paper-and-pencil multiple choice test that asked students to identify the keyboard shortcut to copy text and select the dewey number of a book about pet dogs. These are not real and meaningful skills.

We need a REVOLUTION to change the entire nature of instruction and assessment in our schools. You suggest that: "It might be easier to get these folks to join ISTE, ALA, state organizations if there were well-publicized legislative platforms in which THEY could believe." But can ISTE, ALA, or another state/national professional organization really come up with a REVOLUTIONARY statement? I mean a statement that actually challenges the staus quo and is very likely to offend someone out there.

Is ISTE going to come right out and publiclly state that our current eudcational system is pretty broken and that it needs a major overhaul before we even think about stuffing in another set of standards?

Every little bit helps, and if a national organization can find a way to make things better for students that is great. My personal opinion is that we need an educational REVOLUTION.
January 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher Harris
To lighten things up just a touch, I love the blue skunk new year logo - very googlish =)
January 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher Harris
Well, I have to take issue with the area of ALA/AASL's Legislation Committee. As chair of AASL Legislation Committee right now, I am attempting to reach out to every state through partnerships with Affiliates in Affiliate Assembly, the ALA Legislation Committee, NEA, FLANN, state coordinators for National Library Legislative Day, advocacy groups and many other educational organizations.

The issues we face go far beyond crying for more money. Much of the legislative agenda revolves around educating legislators and those who make the decisions so they are better informed on the value of school libraries. Building concensus, gathering information from all members, and forging messages and action plans with the AASL organization is just one of many tasks.

One of the biggest problems facing us is the apathy of the membership. Problems are solved only through the involvement of others. I must ask each person I meet and write "Who are you sending to NLLD to represent school libraries? Is your state organization actively advocating excellence and financially making a commitment to send representatives to speak for you? Are you reaching out so that representatives reflect the diversity of our users and our profession? Have you established a relationship with your legislators in the local office so they call on you when school issues arise?"

This goes far beyond waiting around for a national organization to do our work lobbying, but calls for individual responsibility within a profession.

I was very disappointed with the blog entry by a library grad student. This blogger was upset with a policy on reimbursement for speakers and made a personal statement refusing to participate in the largest organization representing libraries. I don't find that point worthy of glorification or indicative of all bloggers. I wanted to reply but couldn't find an easy link. I'll have to email directly, but when I see a statement that seems unjust on a blog, I'd like the opportunity to publicly debate or refute it. Thanks for the heads up.
January 9, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Chen
A couple of corrections and amplifications. One, I'm no longer a grad student. I'm happily graduated and working in the profession.

Two, just because I've told ALA to take a long walk off a short pier hardly means I've given up involvement in my profession! In my area, ALA just plain isn't the only game in town; I'll be happy to scan my ASIST card if anyone would like to see it. I also participate in and donate to political or semi-political organizations that advance my professional aims. I just shot a little money in Creative Commons' direction, for example.

And, frankly... if ALA were the only game in town in my area, I'd be looking to start new games, because I don't think ALA is using its money or muscle effectively. My opinion, which need not impact anyone else's opinions or behavior.

Three, it took a wee bit more than ALA's brain-dead speaker policy to kick me out. There's the repeated attempts by ALA's current president to shove techie types like me out of the profession's mainstream. There's the mendacious harping on the "librarian shortage." There's open racism from the aforementioned president that went both unchallenged and uncommented-upon.

It's too much. To put up with all that, I'd have to see clear evidence that ALA is effectively getting important jobs done.

And I don't. I honestly don't.
January 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDorothea
Hi Dorothea,

Your blog bio indicates you are a grad student. Sorry I misrepresented you.

I have to admit I share all the same complaints you do about ALA and I am delighted that a person with your dedication is looking at other ways to advance political objectives related to libraries.

From what I've read in the blogosphere, ALA seems irrelevant to many, many younger members of the profession. What things can ALA do to make itself an important part of your world? (Given that any one action or leader will never represent the views/values of all members of the organization.)

I've adhered to the adage - If you can't beat them, join them. Then beat them. I'll keep paying my ALA dues - cheap way to give me rights to complain about the organization.

All the best and thanks much for writing.

Doug
January 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson
Heh. You're right; I utterly forgot about that bio in the fuss of moving (both physically and virtually). Mea culpa, and I appreciate you bringing it to my attention!
January 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDorothea
Hi, Doug--I was way too busy working on the 65% Solution ALA Council resolution to reply to this when you first posted it, but I have a minute now. When AASL's and ALA's legislative priorities are just about money and not about kids, I will also tell ALA to take a short walk. But they aren't--and it does take involvement, not retreat, to make change happen, legistlatively and organizationally. I didn't vote for the current ALA president and cringe when he speaks, both for ALA and on his own, but he will be past president in June and ALA will continue to be the only organization that speaks for libraries--ALL types of libraries.

It's easy to think that ALA doesn't spend my dues well, but it's also easy to see only those ALA activiities that directly effect you. I have been a member for a rather long time and am still surprised by the myriad of libraries for which it works.

ALA is NOT responsible for recruiting people for jobs that aren't there. No one predicted that, in spite of demographics that predicted that 50% of all librarians could retire in 5 years, that so many wouldn't, preferring instead to stay involved in an exciting profession. Pensions just aren't what they used to be and there are many retirees who are having to go back to work (which leaves those eligible to retire not ready to leave in droves); that was not predictable when the recruiting campaign began.

So, I agree with your statement, Doug, when you say that paying dues gives you the right to complain, but it also gives you the chance to have your voice heard by legislators and government agencies and school boards--and that voice is not alone. It gets really tiring to do our jobs alone without the support of library associations for progress, through lobbying and professional development and all the invisible-to-me activities of ALA and AASL .
Best, Sara
January 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSara Kelly Johns
Dorothea, Glad that you responded and to hear from Sara Kelly Johns. AASL has written a strategic plan that has opened up some lively discussion. The last goal listed is:
Goal Area: Community
AASL will be a vibrant, inclusive, accessible, and supportive community for school library media specialists.
Objectives:
1. Increase the number of members involved in AASL.
2. Increase SLMS’ understanding and value of AASL.

While I agree with many of the problems you highlighted above regarding ALA and chaff at the slowness of initiatives in all divisions, I have experienced the community aspect of AASL through Affiliate Assembly. Two representatives from every affiliate organization gather once at Midwinter and twice at Annual to hear from the top and send messages up from the grassroots organizations. Participation in this caucus greatly benefits the entire organization. There are opportunities to be involved and to be heard. This is a forum for every state to be heard.

I do believe individuals can make a difference working within an organization. I have yet to find a perfect organization where everyone agrees with my viewpoint and yet the organization can affect change by capitalizing on the skills of all members. Differences and diversity are essential to ALA/AASL. Stay involved and vocal.
January 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDiane R. Chen
Hi,

I am an LIS student, but no spring chicken. I am also a member of ALA, ACRL, ALCTS, and (maybe) ASIS&T. I support everything Dorothea said in her comment here and at her own blog in response to here.

Interesting that I found this this evening since I just earlier tonight posted about other issues with our professonal organizations. Feel free to read my comments on why, come Nov this year, several professional organizations may just lose me as a member:
http://bookmark.typepad.com/the_thoughts_are_broken/2006/01/wheres_the_prof.html

I'd love to be a productive member of my professional organizations, but that becomes hard when they can't even acknowledge that I am a member. And yes, I have volunteered to be on committees in the Division nearest to my heart now. Since I joined in Jun 05 I've received one issue of their journal and have received absolutely no other indication from them that I even exist.

I guarantee you that it is not only "many, many younger members of the profession" that ALA is becoming irrelevant to.

And in response to Ms. Johns, yes, it is ALA that is, at least partially, responsible for recruiting to the profession. I have personally met both the Executive Director and President of ACRL and have watched their recruiting video and been told about their recruiting efforts. I can read in American Libraries and other venues about Federal monies secured to recruit more librarians, and so on. I refuse to believe that Congress just decided on their own that America needs more librarians. And all that prediction you say wasn't doable, yes, it was. I took a long hard look at the initial reports and the subsequent reports and much of the supporting sources, and it was plain to see if one didn't WANT to see a shortage. Some of us may be new to the profession, but we can read, are highly educated, and are adults. Please don't insult us. ALA IS repsonsible!
January 10, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMark
One thing I would add again is that I have been pleased with AASL. Maybe this is because I know some of the people who are very involved in the section (including Sara, who is wonderful!). I try to do what I can to be involved within my crazy schedule, and look forward to being more involved after this year when I will only be working on one degree.
January 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher Harris
Sorry, Mark, but I did NOT say ALA was not responsible for the recruiting! I am well aware of the recruiting initiatives all through ALA and IMLS (who gave out BIG grants to recruit librarians and to educate new professors). What I did say was that ALA is not responsible for people who could retire, but didn't because it was/is their own choice to stay working.

At least that is what I meant to say. Sara Kelly Johns
January 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSara Kelly Johns
Sara sent me the nice comment above as an email and on her behalf I'd like to retract my comment being directed at her. I stand by what I said, it just didn't need to be said in response to her comment as it was meant. Her comment did seem a bit odd when I read it. I should of asked her what she meant before I started typing a response.

Thanks for helping to educate me in the ways of professionalism Sara.
January 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMark
Hi, Mark et al,

I have sworn to not post to LM_NET after 11pm because strange things somehow get typed, and I know I could have been more clear. I enjoyed our e-mail "chat," Mark! You have great ideas. I have age.

Grinning, Sara Johns at 1105pm. Yikes! I'll stop now.
January 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterSara Kelly Johns
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