Expert Advocacy Saves WA School Librarian Certification Requirement

The Washington State Professional Educators Standards Board voted to reinstate the Pathway 3 standards for teacher librarians, which require completion of a full certification program from an accredited, state-approved institution.

Washington advocates (l. to r.): Sean Fullerton, Craig Seasholes, Christie Kaaland, and Rachel Oppenheim. Photo courtesy of Rachel Oppenheim

Determined and meticulous advocacy in Washington State has resulted in a win for certified school librarians there. Following efforts spearheaded by the Washington Library Association (WLA) president, Brianna Hoffman, and WLA members, including the entire board, the Washington State Professional Educators Standards Board voted almost unanimously September 22 (with one nay) to reinstate the Pathway 3 standards for teacher librarians, which require completion of a full certification program from an accredited, state-approved institution. The decision overturned an earlier vote on May 19 that eliminated all coursework requirements to become a teacher librarian in Washington. Prospective teacher librarians were only required to pass a state-written test to be certified, without any fieldwork, coursework, or practicum. In an apparent attempt to address of shortage of teachers, the board had voted that "Teachers will be able to add most certificate endorsements via passage of the appropriate subject matter test.” Aside from library media, roughly two dozen subjects fell under that umbrella, ranging from chemistry to traffic safety to designated world languages. (ELL, special education, and reading retained the Pathway 3 requirement.) The latest vote, decided in Spokane, WA, is “a victory for all school libraries,” says Christie Kaaland, who provides clock hours for WLA. Kaaland is also a faculty member at Antioch University in Seattle; associate editor of Teacher Librarian; and the author of Emergency Preparedness and Disaster Recovery in School Libraries: Creating a Safe Haven.

Springing into action

After the May 19 vote, Kaaland immediately notified instructors at three state-approved school library certification programs—the University of Washington, Central Washington University, and SPU/Highline Community College. “SPU/HCC and UW temporarily closed their programs, taking no new applicants. It was a devastating and desperate time for school librarians in Washington,” recalls Kaaland. Julie Todaro, president of the American Library Association, and Audrey Church, president of the American Association of School Librarians, both wrote letters of protest to the board. “That certainly didn’t hurt,” observes Kaaland. While the board members heard from advocates for reinstating Pathway 3 in a handful of subject areas, including dance and art, the overwhelming majority of emails came from librarians. “A few of us, steeped in library advocacy, have learned the importance of political activism in both Washingtons,” notes Kaaland. Many of her former students, who spent time and money to become certified through Antioch’s school librarian program, also wrote letters. Kaaland notes that identifying and reaching out to state legislators who had been supportive in the past was also part of the strategy. Across the table, on the other hand, the board had no letters supporting the elimination of Pathway 3 for teacher librarians.

Showing up matters

Along with rallying support through letters and emails, Kaaland made an appointment with Jennifer Wallace, head of the board. On June 21, Kaaland, representing a certification program, headed to Olympia, WA, to meet with Wallace. She was joined by other advocates—Craig Seasholes, WLA vice president; Marianne Costello, chair of WLA's school library division; Erin Bethel, a student of Kaaland’s and representative of recently certified librarians; and WLA lobbyist Carolyn Logue. They learned that in order to get Pathway 3 reinstated, they needed to get on board meeting agendas. So they attended the July 18 board meeting in SeaTac, WA, where Sean Fullerton, an Antioch University adjunct professor, and Seattle librarian Liz Ebersole joined Seasholes, Logue, and Kaaland in testifying as to why librarians could not be deemed qualified based on one test score. Kaaland encouraged others to attend the meeting as a show of strength. In the audience sat three more of her Antioch colleagues and several local librarians. “Showing up is important,” insists Kaaland. Their efforts paid off. The team obtained a slot on the September meeting agenda, where Kaaland testified, referring to two laws passed in 2015 that defined the role of the teacher librarian and required an assessment for technology. “This is what...we built a case on,” says Kaaland. “That legislative ‘oomph’ kicked it into high gear as we gave testimonies, because the board knew [revoking the May vote] was based on legislation, what the legislature was charging them to do.” The advocates were also armed with research. Seasholes and Kaaland spearheaded a state study in 2014, replicated in 2016, which demonstrated the positive impact of a certified school librarian on student achievement.

No rest for the weary

While those whose life's work is dedicated to, or who are passionate about, school libraries know the difference a strong program makes, they also say continuous vigilance is required to convince others. For this recent success, Kaaland credits being fast to take action and being armed with research and compelling anecdotal stories. “This board decision came about so swiftly because of our previous eight years of continued library advocacy work at all levels—legislative, administrative, community wide, and district wide,” says Kaaland, adding that she just received a request from the Washington state legislature for professional development offerings. “We are very quickly planning our response. Being responsive keeps the lines of communication strong between legislators and teacher librarians in Washington.” Kaaland tells all her students at Antioch the same thing: “Whether you like it or not, teaching is political. We are paid by the government. We answer to public opinion. We are sometimes subject to the whims of political sway and trends. So why not work together and get deeply involved for the common good of kids?”
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Kirsten Edwards

It's also an interesting example of "rent seeking." Very useful for anyone studying economics (I'm working my way through Dr. Sowell's Basic Economics again.)

Posted : Oct 11, 2017 11:22

Sarah Logan

I would now like to see a requirement that anyone serving as a librarian must actually have this credential.

Posted : Oct 08, 2017 10:37

Dyan Schambier

While this is a significant win, as a WA state teacher librarian, I have to say, it's still irrelevant until the state decides to fund the position. Unless and until our state congress is no longer in contempt of court over lack of funding for schools, no amount of certification laws will effect the hiring, or maintaining of strong library programs.

Posted : Oct 07, 2017 09:14

A Underhill

I was the last certificated teacher librarian in my district. When my principal decided to move me back into the classroom full-time and divide up the library into classrooms, a workroom and a career center, I quit. I fail to see how certification is so important if districts can choose not to have any librarians in the district. My superintendent told me until there was a line item funding librarians, it was a building decision and he would not interfere.

Posted : Oct 20, 2017 05:55



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