Cherity Pennington is continuing her series of guest blogs here with a discussion of the dastardly secret of why school libraries are facing such troubles in Oklahoma. Surprise! It’s funding.
There used to be school requirements about staffing school libraries, and supplying books for the libraries. But, after 2008, when the legislature began cutting funding to schools, they gave schools a ‘Sophie’s Choice’: you can use that money for library aides, and for books...or you can spend it in other ways. Like to make up for the cuts from the legislature. Some school districts felt they had to do that, even though they knew it wasn’t right.
A couple of years ago I ‘testified’ at a school funding House Interim Study. The big boys talked about the big picture. I tried to make funding cuts in the schools real. I talked about the cuts to funding school libraries and how short-sighted such cuts are. This deregulation of requirements is not a new problem, but as cuts continue, more and more schools are faced with the realization they are running out of options for keeping their schools afloat.
Please read Cherity’s piece here, her first one, and the ones to follow.
School libraries are under attack. Schools are under attack.
Oklahoma’s teacher shortage has been making headlines for years now. This year, we have seen a record number of emergency certified teachers filling open teaching positions. These emergency certified teachers come to the profession with a variety of skill and experience levels, but what they all have in common is a bachelor’s degree. Yes, all emergency certified teachers must have at least a bachelor’s degree in order to fill a teaching position in our schools.
We would be outraged if our schools were allowing people without a college degree to fill a certified teaching position, wouldn’t we?
Prepare to be outraged.
The use of uncertified personnel to fill certified positions is precisely what is happening to many of Oklahoma’s school librarians. Many school districts are replacing school librarians - certified teaching positions that require master’s degrees - with paraprofessionals who are not required to have a bachelor’s degree. As I pointed out to a friend recently, communities would be livid if a school filled a science teaching position with a person without a bachelor’s degree. Why do we not have the same outrage when we are replacing school librarian positions with people without the required education?
In my previous guest blog, I explained why it is important for Oklahoma students to have access to a certified school librarian. School librarians not only teach their students necessary technology and information literacy skills, they also help their students achieve more in all other subject areas. The State of Oklahoma has known for a long time this positive impact of school librarians. In fact, Oklahoma even requires its schools to have a certified school librarian on staff.
When I tell people that schools are required to have a school librarian, I am often met with confused looks. It is true, though. Our schools are required to have school librarians. According to Standard VII of the Standards for Accreditation of Oklahoma Schools, each public school in our state should have library staffing appropriate for the size of the school. A small school with fewer than 300 students, for example, must have either a half-time school librarian or a fifth-time school librarian with a full-time library assistant. I teach in a much larger school, so my school is required to have a full-time school librarian and at least a half-time assistant.
So why do so many Oklahoma schools no longer have a school librarian? One word: deregulation.
It has been widely reported that since the recession began in 2008, Oklahoma has made deep cuts to education funding. Many schools, facing this severe lack of funding, are reducing or eliminating school library services. In order to change library services, districts must ask permission from the Oklahoma State School Board to deregulate their school library services. What that deregulation looks like is different for each school. Sometimes, districts deregulate to eliminate the library assistant requirement but still keep the certified school librarian. Other times, a certified librarian will oversee the library programs of multiple schools with assistance from paraprofessionals. Too often, districts eliminate the school librarian position completely and replace with library assistants.
I cannot say with accuracy how many schools in Oklahoma no longer have a certified school librarian, but I know it is many. Almost 50 districts requested school library program deregulation for this school year in the month of November alone. Not all of those districts eliminated their school librarian position completely, but many did. Deregulation of school library programs is a part of almost every Oklahoma State School Board meeting and has been for at least the last two years. One can only imagine how many schools still have certified school librarians.
Please let this fact sink in. Many of these deregulations mean that teaching positions are being filled not through an emergency certification process but through no certification process at all. These accreditation standards are supposed to ensure that Oklahoma’s students all have access to a quality education. The schools that deregulate their school library programs may have official permission to do so, but they are not meeting these accreditation standards, and our students are not receiving the level of education that they deserve.
What can we do to ensure our Oklahoma students are receiving the teaching services of a certified school librarian?
First, I encourage school administrators to examine all other cost-saving measures prior to considering library deregulation. A certified school librarian’s expertise in technology, professional development, and teaching can be a low-cost investment for schools.
Then, I urge our state education leaders to work with school districts to protect the position of school librarians. Help our schools find ways to fund this important teaching position. I also encourage our state-level leaders to require schools that deregulate to have a plan to return to full library staffing in a short amount of time.
Finally, I urge the school librarians in Oklahoma who still have their jobs to tell everyone about the important work they are doing. Our communities will not understand why school librarians are important unless our school librarians teach them. OKSL invites schools and school librarians who have been affected by library deregulation to share your stories with us.