The State Department of Education released their first draft of Idaho’s version of the federa Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) this Wednesday, the same afternoon the ILA ESSA committee met with representatives from the American Association of School Libraries (AASL) to talk over advocacy strategies for the implementation of the new plan. The timing could not have been better.
It was easy for this school librarian to feel hopeful when ESSA passed at the federal level. For the first time in more than 50 years, here was a federal education policy that specifically understood the importance of school library programs in student success. However, this federal legislation only authorized school libraries and librarians to have access to additional funding sources for their programs, there was no language that required, or really even encouraged, state education agencies to include school library programs in their revised education planning.
But a simple CTRL-F search of Idaho’s draft document was disheartening. The word “library” appeared only once in the entire draft, and in reference to public libraries, not school library programs.
There is still so much work left to do.
But it is important to remember that the purpose of so much education policy is to provide as much freedom as possible to local schools and districts so that they can be more nimble and responsive to their unique communities and student populations. In some ways, this distributed decision making feels overwhelming, but it also makes district decision-makers much more accessible to school librarians, their supervisors, and organizations like ILA.
The AASL guidance workshop provided three critical talking points for interacting with school staff, parents, students, administrators, and community members, each related to a major area of focus addressed by ESSA.
Improving Basic Programs
Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, of which ESSA is the latest iteration, focuses on those core programs that scaffold, support and shape students’ educational experiences. The message here is one we’ve been repeating for years:
“School Librarians and access to effective school library programs impact student achievement, digital literacy skills, and school climate and culture.”
Providing Effective Instruction
Title II addresses professional development and supports for teachers and school staff to increase the teaching capacity and effectiveness of all staff. This is an ideal opening to talk about the unique opportunities school librarians have both to receive and to lead professional development opportunities:
“School librarians share their learning with other professionals when they attend conferences and workshops, applying the benefits of new techniques, strategies, and technologies to the entire district.”
Title IV provides avenues for programs supporting academic achievement and student success. In ESSA, school library programs are specifically mentioned as eligible for these federal dollars, but we have to remind decision-makers of that:
“School librarians increase access to personalized, rigorous learning experiences supported by technology allowing equitable resources for all students.”
Memorize these three sentences. In any conversation you find yourself in, with fellow librarians, with your child’s teacher or principal, with other parents, with school and district administrator, and even in social media, find ways to put them in. Helping school decision-makers to understand these three key points is so much more important that any written policies.
Erin H. Downey is District Consulting Librarian for the Boise School District