Wednesday, October 1, 2014

School Libraries and National Board.The Speech I Didn't Give.

Retirement offers new opportunities, and I wallowed in them this week. I learned that Legislators hold 'Interim Studies' in the fall, before the Session. I learned that here is where some bills are crafted...sooo. I contacted several, and volunteered to help. I envisioned doing research, checking sources. Instead, two Legislators, Joe Dorman and Jadine Nollan contacted me to 'testify' at their studies. 

I've seen folks testify at Congressional hearings: They bring their statement, read it and answer questions. Rep. Dorman's study was about school funding and per-pupil expenditures. I saw the other speakers were high-powered leaders, waaay more informed than I am about the big picture. I offered to write a speech about what reform and funding looks like in a real school. I wanted to concentrate on two issues close to my heart: the deregulation of funding for school libraries...I have always been a school librarian at heart, and have spent several years in that actual job. The other issue I wanted to talk about was the way the National Board program has been chipped and bludgeoned out of existence in our state. I would have 5-10 minutes. I wrote, rewrote, cut, cut some more. I got it down to 9 minutes and 34 seconds. I asked for editing help, and I was ready.

I had my speech in a folder I could put on the podium. I was feeling pretty smug. 

Then...I got there. No podium. The microphone speakers were to use was far enough from the table that I wouldn't be able to stand, put my folder on the table and read. I doubted my ability to read my own words from that distance anyway.

I watched the other one read a speech. Some had a few pages, stapled...some had powerpoints. They were presenting, not testifying. The audience was Legislators...I scanned my speech and realized I had said some pointed things about Legislators. Why didn't I think of this??

I got out a pen and cut all the snark and loaded language. I listened to others. I listened to Legislators' questions, which were really statements...I watched the time slip away. I cut some more. I rearranged sentences. I hyperventilated. I cut some more.

Finally I was called, five minutes AFTER the meeting was to have been adjourned. Yikes! I've been in front of a class who's being held after the bell. They are NOT happy.

I threw everything to the wind except for a few paragraphs. I tried to remember what I had written, and what was most important to be said. I rushed. I forgot the good stuff. I made a bad joke about dismissing the group.

AND there was another presenter after me!! 

Wow, did I learn a lot. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat. Would I do the same thing? Not a bloody chance. 

So, for your reading pleasure, the speech I did not give. 1300 words, cut from 1800. With all the snark restored.

I sincerely thank the House interim study committees for allowing me to speak today, and bring a message from teachers and students. Just as educators must be held accountable, so must policy maker. Your responsibility is support to schools.

In 1979, my family moved to Norman, and I was lucky enough to begin my OK career in a school library, the emotional center of Eisenhower Elementary. My salary was $1000 less, with one more year’s experience, than my job in IA. This was my introduction to the struggles our schools faced, and have faced for the 34 years of my OK career.

I will focus on two small examples of what politicians’ neglect looks like in our schools: the deregulation of standards for our beloved school libraries, and the gutting of the National Board program.

OK has cut school funding more than any other state, and schools suffer. So, loosening regulations on school libraries came at a time when districts were desperate. This cynical move shifted resources, instead of providing schools with funding. It ignored research that shows strong school libraries, and certified librarians, contribute to students’ literacy, and to higher achievement scores on reading tests.

I have sent Rep. Dorman links to this research, and National Board research. (After the fact, I found this link who succeed in college come from schools with strong school libraries.)

A certified librarian, a dedicated space, an up-to-date collection, and current technology are required to fulfill the mission of school libraries, to help students and teachers become effective users of ideas and information, to become lifelong learners. That was the standard…before deregulation forced school districts into impossible choices: libraries or lights? Librarians or third grade teachers? Sufficient funding would not require these decisions.

Since deregulation, schools use library funds for other purposes. Librarians and aides have been let go. Hours have been cut. Instead of being the heart of a school, too many are closed and locked, suffering from the neglect of our politicians. At Norman North, my classroom library was more up-to-date than the school library, since I paid for my books out of my pocket.

Librarians can’t replace lost and stolen books, or those worn-out, tattered copies. Damaged books are taped and glued as librarians hope to squeeze one more check-out from every copy. They cannot provide the latest technology to students and teachers. 

Librarians scramble to find new sources of funding – Book Fairs, grants, even bake sales. One middle school earned $600 at lunch for books…but this year, that is illegal. No more bake sales during school…$600 for books lost.

From a librarian in OK: “The legislation that was passed 4 years ago has wreaked havoc with my program. I no longer know how much funding [I will have] each year, if [it will come] or where it will come from. Instead of being focused on ordering books that we need and lessons to teach students I'm … worried about funding. This has been disruptive.”

Teachers see the loss first hand. They cannot do their jobs: “We lost our elementary librarian, and NONE of our libraries has a budget this year. We will purchase no new books at any site. I have a broken LCD projector and other AV equipment I can't replace.”

It’s more than books. It’s support: “Also, libraries NEED to be a place for student to use beyond the school day. To keep the library open requires funding for tutors, for librarians, for staffing in general.”
In Norman, we now use bond money as the only funding source for libraries. My district and our citizens sacrifice, making up the funding difference for our students. But why should they do the job of the legislature? Where is your accountability?

Our students are suffering.

Schools are suffering. State aid has fallen every year, to a paltry $3081.40, or $17 a day per student. A teenager will charge $10-15 an hour to baby sit, and a tutor will charge upwards of $15 an hour as well. Schools receive $17 a day. Fewer dollars, more kids, more kids in poverty. More libraries in jeopardy.

Just as politicians have turned their backs on students’ reading achievement, they have made damaging cuts to another program that also affects student achievement. The National Board program in OK used to be exemplary, a national leader. The Legislature offered funding for scholarships, support groups, and stipends for teachers who chose to hold themselves up to the very highest standards in the country, to achieve National Board Certification.

At one time we were in the top five in the nation with the number of NBCTs.  At conferences we took pride in the support and faith the Legislature gave our program. We were envied by other states when we described our teachers-as-mentors program.

From Dr. Barresi’s first School Board meeting, we have seen the systematic dismantling of the program. With the moratorium on scholarships, the number of new NBCTs plummeted:

In 2009, OK had 479 new NBCTs, and supported 292 candidates. This year, under HB1660, we have three candidates, state wide.

Now, we are in a new era of separate and unequal treatment of candidates and NBCTs…only partial support for scholarships, and drastically reduced ‘salary bumps’ instead of the stipends of the past. That $1000 salary bump averages to $83 a month before deductions, about $70 after. Districts who pay above the state minimum salary are not required to pay NBCTs a penny. You have deregulated even this.

Politicians told us when we achieved National Board Certification, we would be rewarded. If we stayed in the classroom as teacher leaders, the state would give us the opportunity to contribute more to our families.  It was, in fact, a mini-stimulus to the state, as we remodeled our homes, made down payments on cars, bought food, clothes and other necessities.

Cynical politicians have withdrawn their support of the incentive pay of National Board, to pursue the faulty policy of merit pay. Our state will continue to bleed accomplished teachers from the profession. They will retire, leave the classroom, or leave the state.

Teachers, including a friend, are wary about the state’s support. She was a high school student of an NBCT, when she knew she would be a teacher, and she would be an NBCT. She was 16 and determined. But, she saw the state support dwindle.  Now she will only bring home $70 a month when she achieves NBC. Why should she trust you to keep promises?

We discovered yesterday that the OSDE, the agency who should be our strongest advocates, has chosen to interpret HB1660 in a way that all renewing NBCTs, starting with last year's renewals, will lose their stipend. They, too, will be paid $70 after taxes.

Ironically, speech pathologists, who wiggled into our original bill, and have been receiving the stipend for a national certification that does not equal the rigor of ours, will continue to receive the stipend. Their renewal process seems to include only documentation of 30 hours of professional development every three years. NBC renewal demands a systematic examination of 8 years of professional growth, a classroom video, another video or analysis of student work, and a reflection. The work is evaluated by a trained assessor who may reject it all. NBCTs pay $1250 out of pocket. An NBCT will work for nearly 18 months before he or she has broken even, if she renews.

This is the ultimate, deep, betrayal by our politicians. They have together turned their backs on their most accomplished teachers, while speech pathologists have been unscathed. Let us remember, Dr. Barresi began her short career in the public schools as a speech path.

The legislature has demanded and mandated and required and expected accountability from schools and teachers and students. The legislature has yet to support their demands with adequate funding or with their own accountability. Their decisions to underfund, to deregulate will continue to erode the work of our educators and students. Where is the accountability for our policy makers?


  1. I wish to have been there to see the faces, had you delivered this one! But, It doesn't really seem snarky to me! (What does that say about the way I think of most of the legislators?)

    1. I didn't actually get to say most of 9.5 minutes turned into four or five. But they did have to listen to me talk about libraries and NBCTs.

  2. I am so glad to hear you addressed the state of support for school libraries. We are no longer being asked to do more with less. Now we are asked to do more with nothing. And it seems that no one advocates for our school libraries. Welcome to year number five without a budget.

    1. Good point...we must do the impossible with NO support and NO funding. Found another report today that shows kids who succeed in college came from schools with strong libraries. It's like they're deliberately subverting our efforts. And not funding us.