When President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) into law on December 10, 2015, it was a huge step forward for school librarians, who are now legally recognized as playing a key role in improving student academic achievement and ensuring that students graduate ready for college and the workforce. This recognition means that school librarians are now able to access more grant funding to support their programs and their professional development. And yet, for all the work that was done to get ESSA on the President’s desk that morning in December, there is still a great deal yet to be done to ensure that this legislation can have a truly transformative impact on our schools.
ESSA also differs from the act it replaced, No Child Left Behind, in the leeway it provides individual states and school districts to determine how they want to apply the law, especially in regard to setting priorities for distributing grant funding. In the months ahead, we need to work together to ensure that ESSA is implemented at the state and local levels in a way that strengthens our ability to do the great work that we do in our schools.
AASL took an important step on this path on June 3, 2016, when it held an ESSA Listening Session with Dr. Monique Chism, Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education at the US Department of Education (DoE). I was honored to be among the 16 AASL members participating.
The purpose of the listening session, a first of its kind, was to provide us with an opportunity to articulate some of the innovative educational work happening in our school libraries, as well as the impact of that work on student learning. We also had an opportunity to take questions from Dr. Chism and to understand from her the DoE’s perspective on ESSA.
During a thought-provoking and information-packed hour a major theme emerged: “bridging the gap.” These words, among the first spoken by AASL President Leslie Preddy as she kicked off the listening session, recurred over and over during the following sixty minutes as Dr. Chism invited us to articulate the myriad ways in which school librarians contribute to bridging the gap between access and opportunity for all learners: providing personalized learning environments for students of all ages and backgrounds, collaborating with classroom teachers to develop curricula and provide ongoing professional development, ensuring equitable access to learning materials and educational technologies, and, perhaps most importantly of all, encouraging the development of fundamental literacies that enable children to become lifelong learners.
In closing, Dr. Chism congratulated us for setting “a new gold standard for listening sessions” and encouraged us to participate in the ESSA rulemaking process as it unfolds.
So, how can you help us bridge the gap between the President’s signature and the successful implementation of ESSA?
First of all, take a look at AASL’s ESSA resource page, which provides a wide range of resources to help you learn more about ESSA and what kinds of action you can take in the months ahead to further our collective goals.
Secondly, take a look at the DoE’s ESSA page, which provides up-to-date information on the implementation of ESSA and includes a number of opportunities to inform the rulemaking process, which is currently under way for Title I, Parts A and B.
Finally, but most importantly, keep speaking up about the great work school librarians are doing every day in libraries and classrooms around the country—and about the thousands of students and teachers who still don’t have a school librarian to help them bridge the gap.