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It's been a little over two months since I returned from Reno and the unveiling of 
AASL's Standards for the  21st-Century Learner.  In that time I've mulled over the 
implications of the new standards; compared them to the mandates of NCLB; tried to 
align them with NETS-S and the national curriculum standards for science, reading, 
math and social studies; and struggled to translate them into the behavioral 
objectives required by our school system...but still I do not feel that sense of 
empowerment and excitement I felt when I first read Information Power: Building 
Partnerships for Learning.  Instead, I have come to wonder: "Are the new standards 
a step forward to a more holistic and comprehensive view of learners, or a misstep 
that will serve to marginalize our profession?"  


I did not begin with these misgivings; instead, I initially felt the faint 
stirrings of excitement when I first read the "Common Beliefs."   For me, the nine 
belief statements that preface the standards encapsulate the ideals that both guide 
and inspire our profession: reading is a window to the world; inquiry does provide 
a framework for learning; and school libraries are essential to the development of 
learning skills.  But doubt crept in when I noticed what is missing from the belief 
statements and what is not translated into action in the standards. My misgivings 
solidified as I considered how to teach the skills, dispositions, responsibilities 
and self-assessment strategies.  And I was moved to write, when I realized the 
implications not only for teaching, learning and collaboration, but also for how 
school libraries and by extension school librarians will be perceived.   


As AASL President Sara Kelly Johns notes in another context, "In a time of budget 
cuts and confusion about the role of library media specialists," now is most 
emphatically not the time to fail to embed in national standards for students' 
learning the critical importance of equitable access and school libraries; nor is 
it the time to fail to reaffirm the vital role of library media specialists.  
Unfortunately, only the belief statements state the critical role of school 
libraries and library media specialists to student achievement and belief 
statements are not standards.  Standards drive instruction and assessment, not 
belief statements.  


Another problem is that not all of the belief statements have been translated into 
teachable and assessable standards and indicators.  Common Belief # 2 states: 
"Inquiry provides a framework for learning.  To become independent learners, 
students must gain not only the skills but also the disposition to use those 
skills, along with an understanding of their own responsibilities and 
self-assessment strategies."  "The disposition to use those skills" is difficult 
and I would argue in some cases impossible to either teach or assess.  For example, 
Standard 1.2.6 states, "Display emotional resilience by persisting in information 
searching despite challenges."  How do you teach/assess emotional resilience, 
especially at the middle and high school levels when library media specialists see 
students sporadically and to complete a specific task? 


Unfortunately, the problems with the Dispositions in Action do not end with the 
twinned problems of assess-ability and teach-ability.  Other problems with 
Dispositions in Action include that it:

        Prescribes the teaching of character traits

        Usurps the role of parents

        Not only usurps the role of parents, but also may directly contradict the 
cultural values and mores of many of our minority students; for example, Indicator 
1.2.4 states, "Maintain a critical stance by questioning the validity and accuracy 
of all information," which is most distinctly a white American value  

        Can not easily or effectively be taught, measured and assessed although 
certainly any teacher worth his/her salt already discusses and illustrates the 
value of persistence, curiosity and teamwork to name but a few of the dispositions; 
the difference is that the second occurs naturally,  in situ  

        Teaches dispositions that are not specific to success in information 


While possession of the dispositions is certainly desirable, our role is not to 
mold character, but rather to educate minds to employ the higher-order critical and 
creative thinking skills that are not only critical to our students' successes, but 
also to maintaining the stability of our democratic society.


In addition to teaching students how to use higher-order critical and creative 
thinking skills, we must also prepare our students to use the information literacy 
skills that are so critical to their success in the 21st-Century; to do that we 
need a clear definition that provides guidelines for instruction.  Instead, Common 
Belief  #6 states:  "The definition of information literacy has become more complex 
as resources and technologies have changed."  Neither the belief statement nor the 
standards answer the question, "What is the more complex definition?"  Based on the 
promise implicit in the title, Standards for the 21st-Century Learner, I expected a 
definition that encompassed the 21st-Century Literacies most would agree are 
"crucial skills for this century," but found that the only literacies mentioned are 
visual, textual, digital, and technological - all of which are of course essential 
- but so too are mathematical, scientific, cultural, and economic literacies  (to 
include but a few of the critical knowledge bases our students will need to 


Even if you argued - and I of course would not - that mathematical, scientific, 
cultural and economic literacies are not the domain of the library media 
specialist, where is media literacy, not only an area traditionally taught by 
library media specialists, but an ever more increasingly important medium for 
delivering information?  Or is media literacy subsumed into digital literacy?  If 
that is the case, then, we have several problems.  The most widely cited definition 
of digital literacy is that provided by Microsoft, yet their definition encompasses 
only entry-level technology skills.  I assume we mean much more than the ability to 
use word processing software.   Should we then create a glossary that defines what 
librarians mean by digital literacy, or should we seek to use a common vocabulary 
with our colleagues in other disciplines?


Let us - just for the sake of argument - dismiss the concerns raised in the 
previous paragraphs as questions related to minor differences in semantics.  Let us 
further assume then that the belief statement does include the full range of 
literacies our students will need to succeed.  Even if we make these two leaps of 
faith, we are still left with the same inconvertible truths: standards, not belief 
statements, drive instruction and, unfortunately, not all of the belief statements 
have been converted into standards. Two of the most important - at least to ensure 
the future of school libraries - do not appear at all: "Equitable access is a key 
component for education" and "School libraries are essential to the development of 
learning skills" which is more than unfortunate because as Christopher Harris notes 
in School Library Journal, "School libraries are becoming marginalized by state and 
federal regulations. The No Child Left Behind Act, for example, does not recognize 
librarians as teachers. Moreover, the '65 percent solution,' an education budget 
formula being enacted by many states, also jeopardizes library funding. Add to this 
the 'Google effect,' which has schools questioning the relevancy of libraries in an 
online world, and we are in real trouble" (June 2006).


            Another factor that might serve to marginalize the importance of our 
profession in the eyes of others is the move, clearly evident in Standards 1 and 2, 
from problem-based to inquiry-based learning.  The implications and potential 
outcomes of this shift are many and varied:

*       One important distinction between problem-based and inquiry-based learning 
is that inquiry-based learning explores questions in much more depth for a greater 
period of time, possibly an entire semester.  Given the time constraints imposed by 
the test-driven environment created by NCLB, are we ignoring reality? 
*       Inquiry-based learning may or may not result in a product that can be 
evaluated which has clear implications for assessment.  In an era of data-driven 
decision-making, the lack of clearly quantifiable data marginalizes what we do in 
the eyes of administrators and other decision makers.
*       Many of the information seeking process models in wide-spread use, like 
Big6, are problem, not inquiry-based.  As a result, new models will need to be 
created and/or existing models modified to include inquiry-based learning.  The 
question then is who will do this and when will the model(s) be available?
*       The distinction between inquiry and problem-based learning is not clarified 
in the standards, nor is the level of inquiry-based learning 
(clarification/verification; structured inquiry; guided inquiry; or open inquiry) 
the standards hope to inspire.
*       NETS -S is clearly problem-based so the alignment that existed with ISTE's 
standards is now tenuous at best.  NETS-S is also clearly aligned with the 
requirements of NCLB and national curriculum standards.  The alignment between 
AASL's new standards and NCLB, national curriculum standards, and NETS-S is only 
evident at the skill indicator level, not at the standard level.


Why not a more realistic statement that it is not an either/or; both inquiry-based 
and problem-based can form the basis of valid information-seeking process models?


Another area of concern is that some of the Responsibilities like 2.3.1, "Connect 
understanding to the real world," are skills that need to be taught.  The ability 
to transfer knowledge is not only a higher-level skill, but also one that must be 
carefully considered and incorporated into the design of the lesson(s).  The same 
can be said of many of the Self-assessment Strategies, like "Interpret new 
information based on cultural and social context." (4.4.4)  Perhaps, how and when 
students will be taught the prerequisite skills prior to their assumption of these 
Responsibilities and Self-assessment Strategies will be made clear in the Scope and 


Finally, it wasn't until I read the indicators for Standard 4, "Pursue personal and 
aesthetic growth," that I realized that concealed within this standard were some of 
the skills necessary to the development of reading comprehension and fluency.  Like 
Standards 1 & 2 which could have been used to build partnerships with technology 
and content area teachers, this standard could have been used to build 
collaboration with reading teachers and specialists.   As I have argued in Reading 
Is Our Business (2006), for too long library media specialists have abdicated our 
rightful position as critical partners in the development of reading comprehension. 
As a result, funds are being diverted from school libraries to purchase classroom 
libraries, library media specialists are being replaced by instructional assistants 
and when certified librarians are employed, they are not viewed as instructional 
leaders or as full partners in the learning process.  


While the consequences for our profession are dire, the repercussions for our 
students are even grimmer.    The correlation between poverty and low reading 
achievement is well documented.  Of people with the lowest literacy skills, 43% 
live in poverty, and 70% of prison inmates read at the lowest proficiency levels 
(U.S. Department of Education 2000).  Equally well researched is the link between 
passive readers and poor comprehension skills.  Passive readers are not engaged in 
meaningful ways with the text.  Disengaged readers will never choose to "Pursue 
personal and aesthetic growth." Nor will they ever discover that "Reading is a 
window to the world" because these less-than-engaged readers do not know how to 
utilize comprehension strategies to increase either understanding or engagement.  
Collaborative partnerships must be forged with reading teachers and specialists if 
we hope to transform passive readers into actively engaged members of a community 
of strategic readers and thinkers, yet only two indicators, 4.1.1 and 4.1.2, allude 
to reading.


In conclusion, much must be done before the promise from the AASL website, 
"'Standards for the 21st-Century Learner' offer vision for teaching and learning to 
both guide and beckon our profession as education leaders. They will both shape the 
library program and serve as a tool for library media specialists to use to shape 
the learning of students in the school," is fulfilled.  


Sharon Grimes
Library Information Services
9611 Pulaski Pk. Dr., Suite 305
Baltimore, MD  21220 

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