In late 2015 the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was passed by Congress and signed by President Obama, replacing the No Child Left Behind legislation. One element included in ESSA was support for “effective school library programs.” However, much of the implementation of the ESSA legislation is left entirely to the states and local districts. A group of concerned New Jersey librarians were inspired to look closer at the status of New Jersey’s school libraries and the opportunity to unlock every student’s potential.
Unlike many states, New Jersey does not require a school library media specialist (SLMS) in each school, and there were many reports of SLMS positions being eliminated. We decided it was time to take a census of New Jersey’s SLMSs and follow up with a survey to understand their working environments and determine the support necessary to meet their specific needs.
While survey results poured in, we began to learn about the extensive research regarding the effects that school libraries and school library media specialists have on literacy, information literacy, school leadership and professional development for teachers and administrators.
The report revealed there are 20% fewer school library media specialists now than there were in 2007-2008 (according to a census by the NJ Association of School Librarians). This means that there is less opportunity to help our children develop a love of reading, to teach them research skills to excel in high school and beyond, and provide them with a place to be innovative and creative. As you might expect, the number of school library media specialists in schools in the Former Abbott Districts is considerably worse than the state average, with less than one in two schools having a SLMS. The report also revealed many students in high school do not have the opportunity to benefit from a school library or a SLMS, thereby sending students to college or the workforce without critical information and digital literacy skills. Finally, it was revealed that many SLMSs are often responsible for covering numerous non-library responsibilities across multiple schools (up to seven), and working with flat, reduced or no budget, reducing potential impact.
You Can Help
We evaluated the research of highly effective school library programs, the passage of ESSA, and compelling stories of school library media specialists who are striving to continue to serve their students despite great challenges, and have determined that improvement is necessary. We strongly support taking the steps needed to ensure that New Jersey students have the opportunity to reach their potential through effective school libraries. Will you join us?