Monday, December 11, 2017

The "Dirtiest" Word in #oklaed School Libraries

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.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

School Librarians-Teachers First and Always. A guest post by Cherity Pennington

I will be devoting my blog to Oklahoma School Librarians, a division of Oklahoma Library Association, and especially friends, Cherity Pennington and Amanda Kordeliski, school librarians extraordinaire. You'll learn about what school librarians know and do. You'll learn about the deep neglect (MY word) our policy makers have showered on our school libraries and librarians. 

I've been a school librarian and know my training helped inform my work in the classroom.

So, let me introduce my friend, Cherity. She has an assignment at the end. Please do your homework.

Anyone who has been in education for even a short amount of time knows that teachers often teach a new concept more than once before their students completely learn it. Reteaching is not a sign of failure; true learning usually takes some repetition.

I had to remind myself today that I am not a failure, but I do have to do some reteaching.

You see, one of my goals when I became the chair of Oklahoma School Librarians this year was to make sure the stakeholders in Oklahoma education understood the role, the purpose, and the necessity of school librarians in every school. Because if our stakeholders - the administrators, teachers, students, parents, legislators, community members, etc. - completely understand what school librarians do, then these same stakeholders will become just as concerned as I am about what is happening to school librarians in our state.

Bear with me, then, as I do some reteaching.

First, school librarians are teachers.

Yes, school librarians are certified teachers. In fact, if I may be so bold, school librarians could be viewed as super teachers. In Oklahoma, school librarians must possess a master’s degree before they can become a school librarian. Most other teachers may be certified with a bachelor’s degree.

What causes many people pause when I declare that school librarians are teachers, though, is that many people are blinded by the stereotype of the school librarian. The stereotype is that school librarians sit behind a desk, check books out to students, and shush students who are too loud in the library. Occasionally, the stereotype might emerge from the circulation desk to put some returned books back on a shelf. The stereotype, though, is nothing like the truth.

The truth is that school librarians are teaching vital skills to the students in their schools. School librarians are teaching students how to find information from a variety of information sources, how to evaluate that information for trustworthiness, how to be safe online, how to use advanced technology tools, how to adapt to changing technology, how to read information sources critically, how to read and evaluate fiction books, and how to collaborate with others. School librarians also work collaboratively with the rest of the teaching staff in a school, so, in reality, school librarians support and teach all academic standards in all core subjects.

In the next few days in my school library, I have plans to help eighth grade students create a commercial with an iPad and a green screen so they can practice their persuasive writing skills along with their speaking skills. I am helping a drama class complete a research project and teaching students how to cite information sources. I am working on lesson plans with a fellow teacher for another research project for a group of sixth graders who are learning to summarize and evaluate editorials with opposing views. I will continue teaching more than 20 students who are choosing to create a project for National History Day and are in the midst of intense historical research. Along with these teaching opportunities, I will also find time to help install a classroom projector, work on three grant proposals for my school, and, yes, check out books to students.

Second, students and teacher succeed with a certified school librarian

Multiple research studies show that students who have access to a school library staffed by a certified school librarian have higher test scores and have a better chance of being college and career ready upon graduation.

Other teachers benefit from having a certified school librarian on staff. Certified school librarians are usually professional development leaders in their schools. Fellow teachers may benefit from the technology and information expertise of the school librarian who leads school wide professional development training. Research also indicates that students succeed more when classroom teachers and school librarians collaborate and teach together.

Third, school librarians are not administrators nor support staff.

Yes, I have already established (I hope) that school librarians are teachers. Why, then, does the distinction among these three titles matter? First, allow me to point out the difference among the three titles, and then, I will explain why the distinction matters.

Because school librarians are certified teachers, they are paid on the same scale as other certified teachers who possess master’s degrees. The only exception to this pay scale is for those school librarians who work additional hours or days in their contract due to the high demands of the school library. School administrators are typically paid much more and have supervisory status over multiple employees or programs within a school or school district.

In the world of education, the support staff title is associated with the personnel in a school who are essential but who are not required to possess a college degree, such as a paraprofessional, school secretary, custodian, nutrition services worker, etc.

Now, this is why the distinction among the three titles matters. Recently, Gov. Mary Fallin issued an executive order that calls for consolidation of administrative services of public school districts that spend less than 60% of their budget on instruction. However, as Sen. Ron Sharp explains in this blog post, some specialized education positions, such as school librarians, are classified as non-instructional or administrative despite the instructional impact they have. Therefore, if we do not make the distinction between school librarians as teachers and not as administrators, then school librarians could lose their jobs.

Also, because school librarians are certified teachers, their positions should not be filled by a person qualified for a support staff position. Again, support staff positions are vital in our schools, but these positions typically do not require certification or advanced degrees. Unfortunately, many school districts are replacing certified teacher librarians with support staff members who are not qualified to be teachers. Examine the agendas and handouts of recent Oklahoma State School Board meetings, and you will find numerous instances of school districts asking permission to do just this. For example, the Nov. 16, 2017, board meeting handout shows multiple districts requesting to replace their certified library media specialist positions with full-time paraprofessionals.

I originally began this writing by stating that I had to remind myself that reteaching does not mean I am a failure. I, and many other Oklahoma school librarians, have been working hard to get the word out about what it is that school librarians do and why these teaching positions are important for our students’ success. Today, I read a school district’s Tweet about its teacher of the year who happened to be a school librarian. Congratulations to that school librarian and to her school because that school understands the amazing teaching that school librarians do every day. Unfortunately, that announcement was almost immediately followed by someone else complaining that school librarians are not real teachers. We obviously have more work to do. We must reteach.

So, here is your assignment.

If you are a teacher or administrator, get to know your school librarians. Work with them and reap the benefits. If you work at a school without a school librarian, tell your decision makers why it is so important to have one. If you are a legislator, spend some time with a school librarian so you can witness what these teachers do each day. Prepare to be impressed. If you are a school librarian yourself, keep being your awesome self and keep teaching your school community why your students and fellow educators need you.

Cherity Pennington is the current chair of Oklahoma School Librarians, a division of the Oklahoma Library Association. She is halfway through her 19th year of teaching in Oklahoma public schools and her 7th year as a school librarian. She was the 2016-2017 Teacher of the Year for her school district. Contact her at or on Twitter @cherity7 and @OKSLlife.