Hamilton, School Librarians, and ESSA

The following is a guest blog from the National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE). NASBE exists to serve and strengthen State Boards of Education in their pursuit of high levels of academic achievement for all students. For more information, visit http://www.nasbe.org/.  

There is a scene in the musical Hamilton where Aaron Burr suddenly realizes that Hamilton, Jefferson, and Madison have reached a compromise —and he wasn’t part of the negotiation. He perceives that, if he is to be effective, “I wanna be in the room where it happens.”

As states work to implement the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), AASL members may want to keep Burr’s insight in mind. ESSA’s framers intended that states make education decisions rather than Washington. In fact, the Wall Street Journal calls it “the biggest devolution of federal power in a quarter of a century.” AASL members who want to weigh in on policy decisions can now focus more on their state capital and less on the nation’s capital.

Now is the time for action. When the US Department of Education released the proposed regulations to implement ESSA, it became clear that at the state level, many educational stakeholders will be in the room where it happens. In fact, §299.13 of the proposed rules spells out that state education agencies “must engage in timely and meaningful consultation with stakeholders.”

School librarians are not named in the regulations— “[t]eachers, principals, other school leaders, paraprofessionals, specialized instructional support personnel, and organizations representing such individuals” are listed—yet there are good reasons for states to reach out to these important educators.

Many issues that states will now have authority to address affect AASL members directly.  The Innovative Approaches to Literacy (IAL) program, for example, is targeted at school libraries. The department says the program will “support innovative programs that promote early literacy for young children, motivate older children to read, and increase student achievement by using school libraries as partners to improve literacy, distributing free books to children and their families, and offering high-quality literacy activities.”

State boards of education will be setting policy in all these key areas. So getting to know these policymakers is key to ensuring you’ll be in the room where it happens.

Here are a few ideas:

  • This isn’t the prom, so don’t wait for an invitation. State boards meet regularly, and their meetings are open to the public. If the board has a public participation time—most do—see if an AASL member can address the board about the critical role that libraries play in developing literacy. State plans must be submitted in the spring of 2017, but states have already begun developing them.
  • Offer professional expertise. ESSA allows states and districts to use their Title II, Part A funds (professional development) to support effective school library programming. Members need to raise awareness of the new ways these funds can be used that are related to libraries.
  • Arrange a tour for state board members and other key stakeholders. Today’s school libraries are very different from the ones most adults remember. Let policymakers see the critical role libraries play in schools for themselves.

ESSA offers the opportunity of much greater state authority over education decision making. AASL members should act now to ensure that, like Alexander Hamilton, they are part of the decision making and not on the outside looking in.

Categories: Advocacy/Leadership, Blog Topics, Community, ESSA Updates


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