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California State Auditor Report Number : 2016-112

School Library Services
Vague State Laws and a Lack of Monitoring Allow School Districts to Provide a Minimal Level of Library Services



Summary

HIGHLIGHTS

Our audit of the provision of school library services highlighted the following:


Results in Brief

California’s common core standards for K–12 schools state that students must be able to gather, comprehend, evaluate, synthesize, and summarize information and ideas effectively to be ready for college, workforce training, and life in a technological society. As a result, students must learn how to transform isolated bits of information into knowledge, evaluate sources, and think critically. State law authorizes teacher librarians—credentialed educators with specialized education—to teach students these skills in the subject known as information literacy, through instruction provided as part of schools’ library services. In 2010 the State Board of Education (State Education Board) adopted the Model School Library Standards for California Public Schools, Kindergarten Through Grade Twelve (model standards), which define educational goals for students at each grade level, including goals for information literacy.

State law requires school districts to provide library services, but it does not clearly define them, so districts may provide varying levels of service. For example, one school district may choose to provide its students and teachers only with access to library materials, whereas another school district may choose to also provide students with instruction in information literacy and research skills in accordance with the model standards. School districts can provide library services by employing teacher librarians, contracting for the provision of library services with county offices of education that employ teacher librarians, contracting with public libraries that are not required to employ teacher librarians, or using classified staff to provide only certain types of library services.1

School library programs in the counties we visited—Sacramento, San Bernardino, and Tulare—provide varying levels of library services to their students and teachers. The districts we visited in the counties of Sacramento and San Bernardino employ teacher librarians, but they place them only in the advanced grades. As a result, students in lower grades receive fewer types of library services, and some may receive no more than access to educational materials. Without the foundation of skills and knowledge established in earlier grades, students and teachers may not be able to achieve the goals of the model standards for later grades.

In Tulare County, the district we visited contracts with the Tulare County Office of Education (Tulare County Education) for library services; however, Tulare County Education employs only one teacher librarian who serves more than 100 schools across two counties, thus limiting the level of service she can provide to individual schools. Although the State’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing (Teacher Credentialing) has issued guidance that this practice is one way to comply with state law, schools that obtain services in this way are unlikely to provide as many library services to their students and teachers as schools that employ their own teacher librarians. The district’s administrators stated that they were satisfied with the services they receive from Tulare County Education and that they believe that classroom teachers provide sufficient lessons on information literacy and research. However, a district can better ensure the consistency and quality of such lessons in meeting the state standards if it employs at its schools teacher librarians who are specifically trained in these subjects.

In addition, neither the California Department of Education (Education), Teacher Credentialing, nor county offices of education are responsible for ensuring that schools do not assign classified staff to perform the authorized duties of a teacher librarian. Many of the schools we visited provide library services using classified staff who are not certificated to perform specific duties reserved only for credentialed teacher librarians, such as selecting library materials. However, Teacher Credentialing and the county offices of education we visited stated that they did not identify this activity as an inappropriately staffed position, referred to as a misassignment, because they lack the authority to monitor the assignments of classified staff. As a result, they only assess whether districts fill at least one teacher librarian position with an individual holding the appropriate credential instead of monitoring who provides those services at all of the schools. However, we compared Teacher Credentialing’s and Education’s data and identified 111 individuals whom districts reported as employed teacher librarians between fiscal years 2010–11 and 2014–15 but whom we identified as appearing to lack the requisite credential or permit at some point during that period. Because state law gives Teacher Credentialing broad authority to ensure competence in the teaching profession and to establish sanctions for the misuse of credentials and misassignment of credential holders, it could perform a similar electronic comparison to identify and follow up on employees without proper authorization who may be performing library services that require a teacher librarian credential.

Further, the county offices of education we visited do little to ensure that their school districts consider the model standards when developing their local funding plans because state law does not require the county offices of education to do so as part of the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) review process. State law requires school districts to use the State Education Board’s adopted template to address the implementation of academic content and performance standards within their local control accountability plans (LCAPs) by including a description of their annual goals for students’ achievement. In addition, the county offices of education are responsible for reviewing and approving the LCAPs of school districts within their jurisdiction, but county offices of education are only allowed to ensure that districts’ LCAPs adhere to the template. Although Education identifies the model standards as one of the State’s academic content and performance standards, the template does not list any of the standards that school districts must address. As a result, school districts may be unaware that the model standards are one of the State’s recommended academic content and performance standards, and thus they may fail to identify the needs of their school library programs.

Furthermore, Education has been unsuccessful in gathering data on the extent of library services that school districts provide throughout the State. State law requires school districts to report annually on the condition of their school libraries to Education, so Education developed an annual library survey to facilitate this requirement. However, Education did not design the survey to assess the extent to which schools provide library services or have implemented the model standards. For example, the survey only gathers limited information on library instruction, curriculum development, and professional development. In addition, since fiscal year 2008–09, fewer than half of the State’s schools have participated in the survey. Without this information, Education cannot assess the extent of library services students are receiving.

Moreover, because of recent changes to its data collection process, Education cannot use the data it collected in fiscal year 2015–16 to accurately identify the number of teacher librarians employed statewide. According to Education’s deputy superintendent of the District, School, and Innovation Branch (branch deputy), Education instructed districts about the recent changes by updating its data guide and providing multiple California Longitudinal Pupils Achievement Data System (CALPADS) trainings. However, the branch deputy explained that it is clear many districts did not understand the changes. Education plans to address the problems this lack of understanding could cause in the fiscal year 2016–17 data by providing training and emphasizing the issue in its CALPADS information meeting this fall. Without data on the conditions and staffing of school library programs, state decision makers cannot identify the weaknesses in the programs and develop solutions to address them.

School districts throughout the State do not employ enough teacher librarians on average to meet the staffing levels recommended in the model standards. The model standards recommend staffing based on student enrollment; however, the school districts we visited only employ teacher librarians to serve certain grade levels or they contract with a public agency that provides library services to a large number of schools. According to the model standards’ goal, the State’s school districts should employ a total of about 7,900 teacher librarians to serve the 6.2 million students enrolled in schools statewide. The model standards recommend having one full-time teacher librarian for every 785 students; however, in fiscal year 2014–15, California school districts reported employing only one teacher librarian on average for every 7,414 students, for a total of 841 teacher librarians statewide. Moreover, the number of individuals with active credentials authorizing them to provide library services has declined since fiscal year 2008–09, possibly because teacher librarians do not always earn additional pay and are particularly susceptible to budget cuts. Thus, even schools that are interested in hiring teacher librarians may face difficulties in filling vacancies.

California has the poorest ratio of students to teacher librarians in the nation, and unless it makes changes to increase the number of teacher librarians, its school library programs will continue to lag behind those of other states. Based on the most recent national data on teacher librarians, California employed only one teacher librarian for every 8,091 students in fiscal year 2013–14, while the state with the next poorest ratio, Idaho, employed one teacher librarian for every 5,533 students. At the same time, the national average was around 1,100 students per teacher librarian. We reviewed four states with large student populations and noted that the largest school districts within two of those states provided greater monetary incentives to their teacher librarians than the largest California school district—Los Angeles Unified.

School districts in California may find it difficult to afford a student‑to-teacher librarian ratio similar to that of other states because California spends less than the nationwide average per student, even though the cost of living in California is generally higher than that of most other states. Thus, the general lack of financial support for education may, in part, be hindering school districts from employing and retaining more teacher librarians. Further, some states have laws that require school districts to employ a teacher librarian based on school size or grade level. For example, New York has a state mandate requiring the employment of one full-time teacher librarian for every 1,000 students in secondary schools. By establishing a state mandate on the staffing of teacher librarians, states demonstrate that they value library services as a fundamental part of education. Unless California makes changes to increase the number of teacher librarians employed statewide, its employment of teacher librarians will likely continue to trail the rest of the nation.

Key Recommendations

To ensure that students receive a level of library services that better aligns with the model standards, the Legislature should do the following:

To strengthen their library programs and help the State assess the condition of school libraries statewide, the school districts we visited in the counties of Sacramento, San Bernardino, and Tulare should do the following:

To strengthen school library programs in their counties and help school districts comply with state law, the Sacramento, San Bernardino, and Tulare county offices of education should provide guidance to their school districts on using teacher librarians for the provision of library services, completing Education’s annual school library survey, and identifying the needs of their school library programs by using the model standards as part of their LCAP process.

To strengthen its monitoring of staff assignments, Teacher Credentialing should work with Education to identify potential misassignments by comparing annually the staffing information reported by school districts to Education against Teacher Credentialing’s credentialing records. Further, Teacher Credentialing should incorporate the identified misassignments into its existing notification, reporting, and sanctioning structure.

To better understand the condition of school libraries statewide and to raise stakeholders’ awareness of the State Education Board’s adopted model standards, Education should do the following:

Agency Comments

The entities we reviewed generally agreed with our findings and conclusions, and indicated they will take actions to implement our recommendations.






Footnotes

1 Certificated personnel, such as administrators, teachers, and teacher librarians, are employees who have obtained valid certifications or credentials licensing them to provide designated school services. The term classified staff refers to other school employees who work in positions not requiring certification, such as instructional aides, library technicians, and clerical staff.
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