Coordinated by Dr. Lesley Farmer
Draft of U.S. plan: http://www2.ed.gov/about/reports/strat/index.html#draft14
The U.S. Department of Education’s effort to plan its direction and allocation of resources is a worthy endeavor. However, it is disheartening that the 44-page U.S. Department of Education Strategic Plan for Fiscal Years 2014-2018 makes no mention of libraries or teacher librarians. To help address this gap, the California School Library Association has developed a number of recommendations.
(California School Library Association – csla.net – is the professional association for teacher librarians and other school library staff and supporters in California. The association’s mission is to advocate for excellence in school library programs, develop leaders in the school library field, and collaborate with other educational leaders to ensure that all California students are effective, responsible users and creators of ideas and information.)
Goal 1: The plan endeavors to increase lifelong learning opportunities. For individuals to take advantage of these opportunities, they need to gain the skills and habits of self-directed lifelong learning. Such habits come from practice. When most learning resources are prescribed in an educational setting (e.g., textbooks and teacher-chosen materials), students are not taught how to evaluate resources critically. Furthermore, students need opportunities to self-select resources according to their needs and interests. The most cost-effective means to provide such training and application is through the regular use of the school library, staffed with a teacher librarian and support staff, and stocked with a wide and deep variety of current and attractive resources in various formats. Teacher librarians (the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) uses the term “school librarian,” while the California State Department of Education uses the term “teacher librarian”) guide students in resource evaluation, and encourage them to choose materials that are personally relevant, appropriate, and engaging.
More extensively, teacher librarians teach 21st century learning skills that enable students to:
1. inquire, think critically, and gain knowledge;
2. draw conclusions, make informed decisions, apply knowledge to new situations, and create new knowledge;
3. share knowledge and participate ethically and productively as members of our democratic society; and
4. pursue personal and aesthetic growth (AASL, 2009).
In 2010 the California State Department of Education approved model school library standards, which align with AASL’s standards, and are organized around four concepts:
1. Students access information
2. Students evaluate information
3. Students use information
4. Students integrate information literacy skills into all areas of learning.
Teacher librarians strive to work collaboratively with classroom teachers to design instruction and learning activities that draw upon these standards, undergirding lifelong learning skills and reflective metacognitive processes within meaningful contexts.
Goal 2: The plan aims to improve the K-12 education system’s ability to deliver excellent instruction aligned with academic standards and provide support services to close academic and opportunity gaps. The plan also wants students to become college- and career-ready. One of the ways to provide effective differentiated instruction, in order to close gaps, is through the use of informational materials that match the student’s reading and cognitive level. The school library program of resources and services provides equitable access throughout the school day to developmentally-appropriate resources that support school-wide curriculum. Teacher librarians can also support classroom teachers with professional materials, and help teachers incorporate technology into the curriculum to optimize learning.
As students prepare for careers, they need to be not only critical consumers of information but also effective producers of information. To that end, education should not only pass on existing knowledge but also teach students how to use tools and processes to create knowledge in order to survive in a future world that has not yet been defined. Because teacher librarians work across the curriculum and manage a wide range of information resources, they can facilitate cross-disciplinary information literacy skills. While classroom teachers have deep knowledge of their academic domain and their students, teacher librarians have deep knowledge about resources, information processing, and technical processes. The two parties do well to work together in order to optimize student learning and achievement.
Teacher librarians also facilitate the bridge between high school and college through their connections with their post-secondary librarian counterparts. They have found that one of the major academic difficulties that college freshmen have is locating and critically selecting appropriate research resources, a skill that students should learn in K-12 educational settings. In California, where the ratio of teacher librarians to students is less than 1 to 5000, students have little opportunity to learn and practice these important research skills. Dozens of research studies link information literacy and student learning overall (Loertscher & Woolls, 2002; Oakleaf, 2010; Scholastic, 2008). Some key findings follow.
Information literacy improves reading comprehension.
Students in schools with school librarians are more likely to enjoy reading and meet reading standards.
When information literacy is integrated into academic domains, students internalize skills better.
Collaboratively designed integrated information literacy instruction improves learning and research products.
Students who are taught information literacy in secondary schools are more successful in higher education than students without that instruction.
In short, the school library program can provide the conditions for optimum learning. As noted in School Libraries Work!:
Effective school libraries are much more than books. They are learning hubs, each with a full range of print and electronic resources that support student achievement. Today’s school libraries must be gathering places for people of all ages and all interests to explore and debate ideas. School libraries have the most significant impact on learning outcomes when they are supervised by a library media specialist, who works collaboratively with teachers, to help all students develop a love of reading, become skilled users of ideas and information, and explore the world of print and electronic media resources.
Goal 3: The plan’s emphasis on Pre-K through third attests to the need for a solid literacy foundation. Young children need a wide range of learning experiences with a wide range of reading. Effective literacy education involves a balanced program of vital skills instruction within a context of authentic reading and writing experience, and good literature and informational text should provide the major focus for reading instruction and integrating the language arts. Teacher librarians have deep knowledge of literature and informational texts, and can help students and teachers find the best match for each situation and student. Teacher librarians are the key site professionals who can share the joy of reading, and promote the reading habit as a valuable and pleasurable activity beyond required school work.
Goal 4: The plan strives for equitable educational opportunities. Because the library serves the entire school community and can provide physical and intellectual access to a wide range of informational resources, including technology, it can help mitigate the negative impact of inequitable environments that students may experience outside the school day. Students in lower socioeconomic families are less likely to have access to reading materials and technology, and do not experience the information world in the same way that more advantaged students do. Today’s school libraries can offer enough computers for an entire class to use, as well as support individual users. Libraries are the technology safety net for disadvantaged students. School libraries also work to reflect their communities in their resources, and so can collect appropriate materials in students’ primary language(s). Teacher librarians can also direct English language learners to digital resources that match their reading ability and help them gain English fluency. Teacher librarians also believe strongly in universal design for learning, and are sensitive to the needs of students with special needs. Teacher librarians know how to locate and select appropriate assistive technology and make accommodations in collaboration with education specialists so that all students can learn.
Goal 5: The plan wants schools to improve education through data-driven evidence, research and evaluation, and technology. With their deep knowledge of information processes and research skills, teacher librarians are well positioned to access, evaluate, and promote research initiatives. Teacher librarians can help the school community locate current research and beneficial practices in order to conduct research-based instructional strategies that result in more effective learning. In addition, with their training and experience in evaluating information, teacher librarians can lend expertise in evaluation efforts. As noted above, with their ability to manage and use technology in support of teaching and learning, teacher librarians can lead the school community in becoming more digitally literate and responsible. They can help the community access information worldwide, and use a variety of technology tools to manipulate, transform, generate, and communicate information with authentic audiences around the world.
In conclusion, for students to succeed, the entire school community’s expertise and resources need to be coordinated and optimized. One of the key professionals in that community should be the teacher librarian, especially because the library program supports that entire community, bridging curricular and developmental boundaries. Teacher librarians provide the most personalized, differentiated instruction and resources to meet each student’s need for just-in-time learning of any staff in the school, and they collaborate to achieve results that are unreachable by any single person. Therefore, the school library program, including highly-qualified librarians, should constitute a significant element in the U.S. Department’s plan of strategies to ensure success for all students.
We request that the above comments be integrated into the plan.
President, California School Library Association
American Association of School Librarians (2009). Standards for the 21st-century learner. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
California State Department of Education. (2010). Model School Library Standards for California Public Schools. Sacramento, CA: California State Department of Education.
Loertscher, D., & Woolls, B. (2002). Information literacy: A review of the research (2nd ed.). San Jose, CA: Hi Willow.
Oakleaf, M. (2010). Value of academic libraries: A comprehensive research review and report. Chicago, IL: American Library Association.
Scholastic. (2008). School libraries work! New York, NY: Scholastic.