“Public schools with strong school library programs outperform those without such programs. This is true regardless of the school, community’s parent education, poverty levels, ethnicity, and the percentage of English language learners.”
California ranks last in the nation in the ratio of students to school librarians—actually, it ranks 51st behind Puerto Rico with a ratio of one librarian to more than 7,000 students.
In response to this dilemma, the state’s Joint Legislative Audit Committee has approved an audit to determine whether California’s K-12 schools are providing statutorily-required library services to the state’s school children.
The audit will assess whether those services are being provided by fully-trained, credentialed teacher librarians. A recent review by the California Department of Education showed there are only 30 county offices of education in the state that have a teacher librarian on staff, while 28 do not. This has left a complete void in school library expertise in those offices and the schools they support. There is also anecdotal evidence that some school districts are staffing their school libraries with volunteers and clerks; that is, if they are staffing them at all.
The lack of certified librarians has resulted in a decrease in student access to books, a decline in student research skills, and the loss of an important resource for teachers.
Often, low income students do not have safe access to public libraries in their neighborhoods, nor do they have money for books, printers, and computers at home. These circumstances make even more apparent the need for school libraries, staffed with certified librarians, critical.
According to the nonprofit organization EdSource, beginning in 2009 the funding set aside for libraries became ‘flexible’ meaning ‘as required’. In other words, it can be used for other things. During the Great Recession as school districts around the state were required to cut more and more, many districts now only employ one teacher librarian who oversees all the school libraries in the district.
Research on the importance of a fully-staffed school library is overwhelming in its consistency. A research study conducted by Doug Achtermann, Haves, Halves, and Have-nots: School Libraries and Student Achievement in California, suggested that public schools with strong school library programs outperform those without such programs. This is true regardless of the school, community’s parent education, poverty levels, ethnicity, and the percentage of English language learners.
According to state officials, a credentialed teacher librarian combines traditional teaching skills and expertise in information technology, digital literacy, and media technologies. They are a classroom teacher’s instructional partner helping foster students’ research, information literacy, technology, communication, and critical thinking skills.
It is essential California resolves this concern as Common Core standards adopted by the state in 2010 require all students be adept at accessing, evaluating, and using content from websites, blogs, newspapers, reference books, online video, and cable news.
According to California School Library Association Legislative Advocate, Jeff Frost, “The California School Library Association is thrilled with the approval of this audit…The fact that we are last in the nation in the ratio of students to fully-credentialed teacher librarians, with more than 7,000 students to one librarian, indicates there is much work to be done to get us to the level of academic success we envision with the Local Control Funding Formula.” He continued, “The research is overwhelming in California and the rest of the nation that the schools with fully-staffed libraries outperform those that are not fully-staffed.” Frost and his organization credit State Senator Tony Mendoza for championing this issue.
On February 22, 2016, Mendoza submitted a written request to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee and formally requested the audit. In his correspondence, in addition to the issues detailed above, he stressed the reality that the hiring of credentialed teacher librarians is a critical issue of equity.
It is also significant how much credentialed teacher librarians can and do contribute to students’ and teachers’ ability to understand 21st Century Learning Skills required in the Common Core State Standards. There is a dramatic need for professional development for teachers in these skill bases, and thus there is a clear need for fully-trained, credentialed teacher librarians.
Mendoza said it best when he lamented, “Gone are the days of the school librarian checking books out to students and teaching them how to do primary research using resources only accessible in the library. Fully-credentialed librarians are now information technology specialists who teach students how to use 21st Century tools to effectively access, evaluate and use content from a variety of on-line and off-line sources.”
California students deserve to be taught by fully credentialed teachers including fully-credentialed school librarians.