April 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

New Collaboration Eases Path to ESSA Implementation


President Obama signing the Every Student Succeeds Act. whitehouse.gov

President Obama signing the Every Student Succeeds Act.
Photo: whitehouse.gov

Educational content provider Rosen Publishing and political action committee EveryLibrary have joined forces to provide pro-bono strategic consulting services to state-level school library stakeholders to help them craft their plans to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

Through ESSA, signed into federal law last December, school librarians were formally recognized as “specialized instructional support personnel.” That means school library programs have new opportunities for funding.

“ESSA has created tremendous new opportunities for states to put effective school library programs to work for their students,” says Roger Rosen, President of Rosen Publishing. “The success that ALA and AASL had in Washington getting school library issues into the bill was a singular achievement. But each state’s approach to ESSA Implementation will be local and distinct. We are proud to provide new donor funding to EveryLibrary so they can expand their pro-bono work with the school library community.”

What needs to happen now

But first, each state has to adapt its education laws to these new ESSA provisions. Otherwise, the federally-won battle will just have to be fought again and again at building and district levels.

The federal government is requiring states to develop an ESSA Implementation Plan that addresses at least three action areas: standards and assessment, accountability, and school improvement. Each state has a task force set up to do that.

The project’s goals

That’s where the new collaborative project comes in. Those state task forces don’t have to include any librarians. The goals of the project are to ensure that each task force has school library stakeholders on it, and that every possible way to expand the stature of school librarians, as authorized under federal law, is explored. “If we’re not at the table, we’re going to be on the table,” says John Chrastka, executive director of EveryLibrary.

“We’re not working on a building or district level now—that will be years down the road. EveryLibrary efforts are limited to state-level planning processes,” explains Chrastka. “Of the 18 states we spoke to, which range geographically from Alaska to Florida, only two had school librarians assigned to a work group, and another two proactively requested school librarians be seated at the table.”

Tough challenges

EveryLibrary will be reviewing each state’s laws or code for school library program standards. If there aren’t any, then a point of reference will need to be identified—quickly—on a case-by-case basis.

Adaptability among the stakeholders is going to be key. The planning processes will be as varied as the states themselves. They could include meetings of educational stakeholders, listening tours by state DOE or board leadership, a task force or working group model, public comment on proposed rule changes, all of those, or none. That means there’s no one-size-fits-all playbook.

“EveryLibrary’s leadership is helpful in getting the various stakeholders organized and seeing the bigger picture,” shares Kafi Kumasi, associate professor at Wayne State University School of Library and Information Science in Detroit. “As an example, John Chrastka stressed the importance of our school library reps being on all 10 of the task forces set up in Michigan. While it was too late to actualize this, we saw things differently in terms of what groups we ‘belong to’ and who needs to hear our perspective.”

The clock is ticking

Each state is required to deliver its ESSA Implementation Plan to the U.S. Department of Education by the end of April 2017 for the 2017–18 school year. Some states will be done sooner, having issued their calendars in January or February. Others are only just getting started now. “Given the reality that time is of the essence…we hope to be on the ground with a basic plan in place to be part of developing New Hampshire’s vision as schools gear up to open this fall,” reports Susan Ballard, program director at Granite State College School of Education in Concord, NH.

“Here’s where the rubber hits the road,” says Miriam Gilbert, director, Rosen Digital, speaking on behalf of Rosen Publishing. “There is still time to get the administrative authorization language in, state by state. Otherwise, school library programs can’t be included in appropriations. Some states have a very clear timeline. Others are more opaque.” The dates for public hearings are different for every state, which is what makes the effort demanding. “In some places, we are late to the game. We stand ready to coach and train,” says Chrastka.

“Librarians are so lucky to have the support of Rosen and EveryLibrary. Seriously, they gave us a starting point and really pushed me to be an advocate outside of my district and use my skills in a way I haven’t before,” says Stephanie Ham, director of library services for Nashville Public Schools. “Building an amazing team of library leaders across the state from a variety of districts and backgrounds, we are working to have a voice on committees and push our supports to speak up for what librarians—not just libraries—can do to support student success.”

Supporting stakeholders          

“We are helping state level school librarian stakeholders tactically, to get what was won for them by ESSA into their state implementation plans. We are helping them get a seat at the table and lobbying. We are not working on policy issues, though,” notes Chrastka. “[The American Library Association] ALA and [the American Association of School Librarians] AASL have that covered.”

EveryLibrary is also educating stakeholders with sample rewrites of law and code, existing policy papers,  ALA and AASL talking points on the value of school librarians, and how to write comments that identify how school libraries support educational goals.

Key questions the stakeholders are walked through include:
What are the terms used in your state for “School Librarians” and “School Library Programs” as defined in ESSA?
Where in state law or administrative code are school librarian positions mentioned?
What terms currently exist in state law or administrative code for ‘Specialized Instructional Support Personnel’ as defined by ESSA?

Along with tools from EveryLibrary, the newly minted AASL Position Paper defining an Effective School Library Program, and the U.S. Department of Education Future Ready Schools Initiative model are being used to develop individual state plans.

The role of individual librarians

What’s the most important thing one school librarian can do? “Be prepared to articulate a policy vision during the public comment period, which will vary by state. Look to your state library association or chapter for that info, and learn the deadlines,” advises Chrastka. An overall state-by-state calendar of ESSA dates and deadlines is available on Everylibrary.org.

“We need many voices in the choir,” adds Gilbert. “Academic librarians, those directing school library education programs, parents and students need to be recruited to speak during public comment periods. That’s what EveryLibrary is doing, providing the framework to identify the stakeholders, how to reach them and get them involved. We’ve had tremendous progress in Idaho, Tennessee, Florida, Miami, Georgia, Virginia, and Montana.”

A team effort

“We could not be effective in this project without the policy work that AASL and ALA have done,” says Chrastka. “Their Unpacking ESSA tool kit provides the standards-based and outcomes-based framework that each school library stakeholder group needs to use in their particular policy setting. Rosen Publishing’s donation allows us to provide our support for free.That, along with their network, has added the capacity we needed to tackle this in all 50 states. We did not anticipate being able to get directly involved with school libraries until 2018, and then in the usual election or funding negotiation capacity. We’re excited to be doing this now. The win for school libraries from ESSA is huge.”

Gilbert agrees. “School Librarians were the ones left behind in the No Child Left Behind Act. It was the hard work of AASL and ALA that got that wonderful language into ESSA, as only they could do. A door has opened. We’re talking about a nationwide impact on learners, to be embedded in the fabric of learning…that’s profound.”

Extra Helping header

This article was featured in our free Extra Helping enewsletter.
Subscribe today to have more articles like this delivered to you twice a week.

Christina Vercelletto About Christina Vercelletto

Christina Vercelletto is School Library Journal’s former news editor. An award-winning writer and editor, Vercelletto has held staff positions at Babytalk, Parenting, Scholastic Parent & Child, and NYMetroParents.com.