ESSA Action Focus Pivots to Policy Points

State education agencies are trying to find solutions to problems in this new ESSA environment. If you don't bring the librarian perspective to the next version of the draft, no one else will.
Over the past many months, EveryLibrary has been partnering with 18 state school library association task forces, helping them shape their policy recommendations on effective school library programs and school librarians and working to get those recommendations into their states' ESSA Plans. Each state association has been basing its policy work on respective state standards for school library programs, and in a hope for the future of school librarianship in their state. Rosen Publishing has been a partner in supporting our work with these states, and its commitment to the success of ESSA implementation for school libraries is tireless.

essa-stepsPolicy points are what matter in ESSA Plans

The focus must be on policy points. By law, each state ESSA implementation plan must address, at a minimum, three action areas: Accountability, Standards and Assessment, and School Improvement. The challenge is to tie the work of your school librarians to the action areas. Standards and Assessment: Each state has "legacy standards" across the curriculum that are being reimagined within ESSA's devolution of authority to the states. If your school library community publishes a set of standards for school library programs, now is the time to make a recommendation that your state education agency (SEA) adopt them. (If not, AASL revision to L4L in 2017 should be recommended for adoption). Accountability: Each SEA is looking to "meaningfully differentiate" between failing and successful schools. An effective school library program is a differentiator. Don’t forget to request adoption of a funding formula that supports the development or continuation of effective programs. (See AASL's definition of effective). School Improvement: School librarians are in a unique position to train other teachers and bring outside continuing education into their schools. Asking for that role to be specified—and for school librarians to be funded to provide professional development support to other faculty and staff—is a smart move. Some states are going beyond those three mandatory action areas. SEAs in Michigan, Ohio, and Georgia, among others, have decided that more action areas will be addressed, including educator effectiveness, English language learners, and homeless and at-risk students. In all states, though, each school library association is faced with shaping policy points to their SEA on how school librarians and libraries should be included in their state’s ESSA implementation plan. To that end, my advice is to think about how school librarians and school libraries can solve the problems that their state's plan is addressing. One such problem that is popping up in state ESSA draft plans, for instance, is equity—in access to education, resource allocation, and opportunities for children with differing abilities. School librarians fit nicely into the equity equation because of the work they do every day in the school's biggest classroom: the library.

Unique opportunities

All state school library communities should use this ESSA planning process to recommend a federal/state/local funding formula that encourages their SEAs to leverage programs such as Innovative Approaches to Literacy and to make specific recommendations based on other title funding (such as a Block Grant). Some states have specific line items in the state budget or SEA funding formula for school library programs. If yours does, now is the time to recommend a change you want. Another recommendation that is appearing from several library task forces is for the SEA to hire a part-time or full-time library consultant using Title IV, Part A funds. A lack of an SEA-based library consultant means that bundling federal grants and librarian professional development programs is hard to do. This recommendation can be made as a component of the "multi-tiered systems of support" that ESSA requires SEAs to produce in the plans.

The bottom line

Right now, you need to anticipate the release of your individual state draft ESSA plans and to ready your school library stakeholders to engage with that draft. That engagement needs to be within a framework that each state DOE lays out. Some states are waiting until final guidance is issued by the U.S. Department of Education in December before issuing their draft ESSA plan; Others, such as Illinois, Louisiana, and North Carolina, have already issued theirs. As soon as your state’s is released, comment on it. Your SEA is trying to find solutions to problems in this new ESSA environment. If you don't bring the librarian perspective to the next version of the draft, no one else will. Above all, remember:
  • Policy points on your state’s action areas are more important than talking points about federal title changes in this stage of the game. Those recommendations are what will make federal dollars flow through state DOEs to improve districts.
  • The new role for school librarians in ESSA as “instructional support personnel” needs to be highlighted.
  • The AASL definition of an Effective School Library Program should be discussed.
  • School library associations are legitimate stakeholders in each SEA's process. If your SEA is hosting a listening tour, plan to have librarians who are prepared to speak at every meeting. If your SEA has a stakeholder survey, rally dozens of librarians from around the state to respond to it.
The associations we are working with may or may not get their issues into the final ESSA plan, but regardless, they now have increased visibility as educators and professionals. The ESSA implementation planning process will end, by statute, 120 days before the start of the 2017–2018 school term. But filtering positive change from these state plans down to schools and districts is going to be a multi-year advocacy project. Orienting your members to that long-term goal, federal law, and the SEA process is key to future success. The AASL ESSA workshops are a great opportunity to build out long term advocacy infrastructure with your members.


Alaska Association of School Librarians (AkASL) Letter from AkASL to AK DEED ESSA coordinator and commissioner of education 

Florida Association for Media in Education Letter to state DOE

Georgia Library Media Association Listening tour schedule Listening tour policy points

Idaho Library Association ESSA task force page

Illinois School Library Media Association (ISLMA) Letter to Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) asking to be recognized as stakeholder organization Policy positions for state ESSA Accountability Work Group Listening Tour talking points and schedule ISLMA policy response to ISBE ESSA Draft #1

Iowa Association of School Librarians Listening tour schedule

Maryland Association of School Librarians ESSA comments

New Hampshire School Library Association Letter to the state education commissioner 

New Jersey Library Association The programs report is pretty wicked.

Ohio Educational Library Media Association State stakeholder survey approach with over 100 members posting policy points

Tennessee Association of School Librarians Talking points for the state DOE survey


AASL policy docs Colorado State Library ESSA Summary EveryLibrary triage document EveryLibrary calendar of deadlines and progress New York Library Association Texas State Library and Archives Overview


Illinois Louisiana North Carolina New York Library Association


John Chrastka is executive director of EveryLibrary.

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