Ensuring Literacy for All: The Right to Read Act Reintroduced in Congress
The Right to Read Act, introduced by Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ-03), has been reintroduced in the United States Congress. The act aims to ensure that every student in the United States has access to a school library staffed by a certified school librarian. It also seeks to address disparities in access to school library resources, and to surge federal investment in support of increasing student literacy across America.
The Importance of Literacy
Literacy is essential for lifelong opportunities and economic success. The ability to read and write fluently is an important foundation for learning and communication, and is vital for future success. Data shows that school libraries make a significant, positive impact, giving children the skills and inspiration needed to become proficient and enthusiastic readers. Access to a school library results in a 73% higher literacy rate for all students and an even more powerful impact for low-income, minority, and disabled students.
Furthermore, literacy plays a crucial role in shaping one’s personal and social development, studies show. It helps individuals to be more self-aware and understand the world around them better. Through reading, people can develop empathy, expand their worldview, and gain knowledge on various topics. Literacy also enables people to express themselves better and communicate effectively with others. It allows them to articulate their thoughts and feelings, which is critical for building healthy relationships and fostering social connections.
Literacy is not just about reading and writing; it also includes critical thinking and problem-solving skills. These skills are necessary for success in today’s complex and ever-changing world. With the advent of technology, the ability to read and write is no longer enough. People need to be able to navigate and evaluate information from various sources critically. They need to be able to understand and analyze complex problems, identify potential solutions, and make informed decisions. Therefore, improving literacy skills should not only be limited to reading and writing but should also include promoting critical thinking and problem-solving skills. By doing so, individuals will be equipped with the necessary skills to succeed in the 21st century.
Disparities in Access to School Libraries
The U.S. Department of Education reports that 2.5 million students are enrolled in districts where there are no school libraries. This means that 1 out of 10 schools in America are without a library, and 30% do not have full-time school librarians. School libraries are most effective when they offer resources that resonate, engage, and empower students. However, 37 states have enacted bans on books that disproportionately limit access to reading material that discuss issues from marginalized and minority communities.
The Right to Read Act aims to reduce disparities in reading ability among students by providing evidence-based reading instruction, well-equipped school libraries, family literacy programs, a variety of reading materials, and the freedom to select their reading materials. The legislation also recognizes the digital literacy needs of contemporary students and strives to improve the efficiency of school libraries by investing in the recruitment and retention of state-certified school librarians and supporting staff who work to extend access to library collections.
Provisions of the Right to Read Act
The Right to Read Act is a comprehensive bill that addresses various aspects of literacy in the United States. Among its provisions, the act authorizes up to $500 million in Comprehensive Literacy State Development Grants and increases the authorization for the Innovative Approaches to Literacy program to $100 million. This funding will support efforts to improve literacy rates in the United States and provide students with access to a wide range of educational resources, reports the American Library Association.
In addition, the Right to Read Act invests in recruiting and retaining state-certified school librarians. The bill recognizes the important role that school librarians play in supporting literacy and the educational development of students. School librarians are essential in providing access to professionally curated resources that meet the needs of the entire learning community, American Libraries Magazine reports. They also create a welcoming environment for all students, develop a school-wide culture of reading, teach information literacy and digital literacy skills, and lead meaningful technology integration in their schools.
Protecting First Amendment Rights
The First Amendment of the United States Constitution guarantees certain fundamental rights, including freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, and the right to assemble peacefully. These rights extend to individuals in all aspects of their lives, including public schools and school libraries.
When it comes to school libraries, the First Amendment protects students’ right to access information and ideas, as well as the right of librarians to select and make available a wide range of materials without censorship or interference, maintains the First Amendment Encyclopedia. This means that school libraries should provide access to materials that may be controversial or unpopular, including books that deal with topics such as religion, politics, and sexuality.
However, there are some limits to this protection. The Supreme Court has recognized that schools have a legitimate interest in promoting a safe and orderly environment, and may limit student expression that disrupts the educational process or infringes on the rights of others. For example, schools may restrict speech that is harassing or threatening, or that promotes drug use or other illegal activity, reports Lawyers.com.
In addition, the Supreme Court has held that schools may restrict student access to materials that are “educationally unsuitable.” This means that schools may exclude materials that are “pervasively vulgar” or that “denigrate religion or promote hostility or violence,” but they may not exclude materials simply because they are controversial or unpopular.
First Amendment rights should apply to school libraries and with liability protections that extend to teachers and school librarians, which the Right to Read Act also reaffirms. This measure is a direct response to the ongoing surge of book bans and educational gag orders that disproportionately target titles involving marginalized communities. In some cases, librarians and teachers have been threatened with fines, jail time, or job loss for providing access to these books. The Right to Read Act aims to ensure that every student has access to a wide range of educational resources without fear of censorship or discrimination.
Support for the Right to Read Act
The Right to Read Act has garnered support from various educational organizations, lawmakers, and advocacy groups. One of the major supporters of the Act is the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), a professional organization for educators that aims to improve the teaching and learning of English and language arts.
“Limiting student access to books infringes on a well-rounded education and connecting to the expansiveness of humanity,” NCTE Executive Director Emily Kirkpatrick said in a statement. “The Right to Read Act protects access to the benefits of teacher and librarian expertise and, ultimately, a society filled with possibilities rather than fears.”
In addition to the NCTE, other educational organizations such as the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) and the American Library Association.
“Today’s school libraries are dynamic centers of learning that provide access to a wide range of materials and technology,” said ALA President Lessa Kananiʻopua Pelayo-Lozada. “The Right to Read Act, like ALA, insists that all students have the right to read freely and deserve equitable access to a robust collection in their school library. The COVID pandemic shined a spotlight on the many roles of school librarians, who stepped up to meet a range of needs as learning moved online: ensuring students were able to access the internet; lending books, laptops, hotspots and other materials; providing technical assistance for teachers and parents; conducting virtual classes and sharing online material. School libraries bridge the gap between access and opportunity for all learners. Now is the time to scale that success – not take it for granted. Every school library should be staffed by a state-certified school librarian. Strong school libraries staffed by school librarians lead to stronger teachers and greater student success, and ALA applauds Senator Jack Reed and Representative Raúl Grijalva for introducing the Right to Read Act.”
Support the Right to Read
The Right to Read Act has the potential to address the literacy disparities in the United States by providing resources and support for schools and communities. By ensuring that every student has access to high-quality literacy education, the Act can help to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty and promote equity and opportunity for all.
However, the success of the Act depends on the commitment of lawmakers, educators, and communities to prioritize literacy education and to provide the necessary resources and support. It is up to all of us to ensure that every student in this country has the right to read and the opportunity to succeed.
Click below to support this important piece of legislation and improve literacy in the United States!Whizzco