|'Highly Qualified' Librarians Under NCLB?|
By Debra Lau Whelan -- School Library Journal, 6/1/2007
Reprinted with permission
© 2007, Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Legislation is in the works to emphasize
the importance of librarians in student achievement
If Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) and Representative Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) have their way, there would be a certified librarian in every school by 2010, and media specialists would fall under the “highly qualified” category that’s given to classroom teachers under No Child Left Behind (NCLB).
The two lawmakers are in the process of drafting language that they hope will be included in the reauthorization of NCLB, expected to take place sometime this year.
“[The new bill] acknowledges, on the federal level, the direct contribution that school librarians and school libraries make in student achievement,” says Emily Sheketoff, executive director of the American Library Association’s (ALA) Washington office. NCLB requires a highly qualified teacher in every core academic classroom, but since librarians currently don’t qualify as “highly qualified” teachers, school districts can replace them with less expensive paraprofessionals.
Although districts would have until 2010 to comply, the new law would take into account those schools that don’t have a library or can’t afford a librarian by allowing them to apply for a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, Sheketoff adds.
Having a media specialist in every elementary, middle, and high school in the nation is a very lofty goal, considering that librarians are typically the first on the chopping block during a fiscal crisis.
In California for instance, school librarians in several districts are fighting for their jobs. The four schools in the Durham Unified School District, located in a small farming community, said last month they were considering cutting athletics and libraries. And in Wisconsin, the Monroe School District planned to eliminate four of the district’s five librarian positions.
If librarians are granted “highly qualified” status, not only will their jobs be better protected, but they’ll also qualify for any professional development money that’s set aside for educators who belong to that coveted group, Sheketoff says.
ALA has been pushing this subject with lawmakers on Capitol Hill for the last three years, and there appears to be bipartisan support. “We have an excellent chance of passing it—if NCLB passes,” says Sheketoff, adding that while there may not be objections to the librarian clause, there might be infighting over NCLB itself, especially before the 2008 presidential election.
During this year’s National Library Legislative Day in early May, the heads of ALA’s youth divisions—the Young Adult Library Services Association, the American Association of School Librarians, and the Association of Library Service to Children—all gathered in Washington, DC, to meet with lawmakers about the importance of this issue. And Sheketoff says, hopefully, their efforts will pay off.