Elementary and Secondary Education Act & Libraries

What is Elementary and Secondary Education Act?

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) or what was previously known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) was scheduled to be reauthorized in 2009 but congress has not yet done so. However, both the Senate and House have been holding hearings and meetings throughout 2010 and 2011 on what should be included in a reauthorized ESEA bill. During this time, the Washington Office has been meeting with key legislators and staff working to get school libraries included into ESEA.

On June 12, 2013 the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee marked up S. 1094, the Strengthening America’s Schools Act, on a 12-10 party line vote.  This bill would reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and is a huge victory for libraries as it creates a specific provision for school libraries and implements the Improving Literacy and College and Career Readiness Through Effective School Library Program.

The Improving Literacy and College and Career Readiness Through Effective School Library Program does several things that the ALA Washington Office has been pushing Congress for many years by defining school libraries as:

  1. Staffed by a state certified or licensed school librarian;
  2. Having up-to-date books, materials, equipment, and technology (including broadband);
  3. Including regular collaboration between classroom teachers and school librarians to assist with the development and implementation of curriculum;
  4. Supports the development of digital literacy skills.

Furthermore, this legislation will allow for the Department of Education to award three year grants to low income school libraries to maintain up-to-date school libraries, staffed by a state-certified school librarian, and for other purposes relating to a school library.

No date has yet been set for when this bill will be taken up on the Senate floor.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the Education and Workforce Committee marked up HR 5, The Student Success Act, on June 19, 2013.  Unlike the Senate bill, this legislation does not include any language for school libraries.

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Why does it matter to libraries?

“I was talking to my college-age children about which teacher had the biggest impact on them. All three agreed that the most beneficial learning took place in the school library. This is where they learned the skills to be successful in college and as life-long learners. They felt that they were more prepared than many of their college classmates when it came to the skills they needed to do research and to write college papers. Their classroom teachers had the opportunity to collaborate with the librarian, devising projects which met the state standards as well as gave them needed skills.Our family motto is, ‘You don’t need to know everything; you just have to know where and how to look for what you need to know.’ With our school librarian’s help, they have those skills.”

-Kim Porter, a mother and kindergarten teacher from Mount Gilead, OH.
Quoted from the Ohio Education Library Media Association's report (pdf) on school libraries.

ALA applauds the objectives of ESEA, but believes the same standards being applied in our classrooms should be extended to our nation's school libraries - that every school library should be staffed by a state certified school library media specialist.

Section 1119 of ESEA outlines the minimum qualifications needed by teachers and paraprofessionals who work in any facet of classroom instruction. It requires that states develop plans to achieve the goal that all teachers of core academic subjects be state certified by the end of the 2005-2006 school year.

Yet, despite the vital role school libraries play in helping meet those requirements, ESEA is silent when it comes to the qualification of those individuals in charge of our school libraries. School librarians fill multiple roles - teacher, instructional partner, information specialist, and program administrator - ensuring that students and staff are effective users of information and ideas.

School libraries are critical partners in ensuring that states and school districts alike meet the reading requirements that are part of ESEA as well as Congress' unequivocal commitment to ensuring that every child can read by the end of third grade. Congress recognized the important role school libraries play in increasing literacy and reading skills when they created the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program as part of ESEA (Title I, Part B, Subpart 4, Sec.1251).

Multiple studies have affirmed that there is a clear link between school library media programs that are staffed by an experienced school library media specialist and student academic achievement. In states as dissimilar as Alaska, Pennsylvania, and Colorado, three recent statewide studies show that a strong library media program helps students learn more and score higher on standardized achievement test than their peers in library-impoverished schools.

When it comes to our children's education, we must ensure that they receive the best instruction possible from competent, qualified instructors. This is true in the classroom and should be true in our school libraries. Education is not exclusive to the classroom; it extends into school libraries and so should the qualification we demand of our school librarians. To be a critical part of a comprehensive and renewed strategy to ensure that students learn to read (and to read well), every school library should be staffed by a highly qualified, state certified library media specialist and every school should have a school library.

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ALA's Position on ESEA

Congress is set to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) previously known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). Please contact your U.S. senators and representatives to share examples and personal stories of how school libraries and school librarians impact the education of children in your community.

When speaking to your senators and representatives, please urge them to:

  1. Include in ESEA reauthorization that all public schools have a school library staffed by at least one state-licensed school librarian.  Only 60 percent of public schools in the United States have a school library, and studies show students from schools with a school library staffed by a state-licensed school librarian do better in school and score higher on tests.
  2. Maintain dedicated funding for school libraries. Federal school library funding has undergone major cuts in recent years.  Improving Literacy Through School Libraries has not been funded since FY 2009.  In FY 2012, school libraries received some funding through the Innovative Approaches to Literacy.  To keep school libraries up-to-date, libraries need to be funded on an annual basis.
  3. Allow state and local professional development funds to be used for recruiting and training school librarians.  Currently, school librarians are included as in various professional development programs (such as the Teacher and Principal Training and Recruiting Fund and the Enhancing Education Through Technology Fund) even though they are a critical tool used to improve student academic achievement. ESEA should encourage participation of librarians in such programs.

View and download ALA's position on the reauthorization of ESEA (pdf).

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Other Information

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