Yesterday, a group of students, parents, and the advocacy organizations CADRE and Fathers & Families of San Joaquin, represented by Public Counsel and Morrison & Foerster, filed suit against the State of California, the State Board of Education, the State Department of Education, and State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Tom Torlakson, for their collective failure to provide every child in the state access to literacy as required under the California Constitution.
The complaint was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on behalf of California students at La Salle Avenue Elementary School (Los Angeles—the 22nd lowest performing school district in the nation), Van Buren Elementary School (Stockton—the third lowest performing school district in the nation), and the charter school, Children of Promise Preparatory Academy (Inglewood), as well as on behalf of their advocates, including former teachers and community organizations CADRE and Fathers & Families of San Joaquin.
In a statement, Public Counsel claimed that: “Based on the state’s own testing standards, under-performing schools throughout California have student bodies consistently achieving less than 10 percent, and frequently less than 5 percent, proficiency in core subjects like reading and math. In 2016-17, the school-wide proficiency rates for La Salle, Van Buren, and Children of Promise, respectively, were four, six, and 11 percent. To put those figures into context, in 2016-17, only eight children out of the 179 students tested at La Salle Elementary were found to be proficient by state standards.”
“Public education was intended as the ‘great equalizer’ in our democracy, enabling all children opportunity to pursue their dreams and better their circumstances. But in California it has become the ‘great unequalizer,’” said attorney Mark Rosenbaum, Public Counsel. “Although denial of literacy is the great American tragedy, California is singlehandedly dragging down the nation despite the hard work and commitment of students, families and teachers. Of the nation’s 200 largest districts, eleven of the 26 lowest-performing districts are in California; New York, by comparison, has two, and Texas has only one. In 2017, there is no excuse for every child not learning to read, and reading to learn.”
As highlighted in the lawsuit, the state’s own literacy experts concluded in a 2012 report that “there is an urgent need to address the language and literacy development of California’s underserved populations…” The state’s experts warned, “the critical need to address the literacy development of California children and students cannot be underestimated…” Yet the state took no meaningful steps to respond to the crisis.
“It has been five years since the state identified urgent literacy issues and their remedies, but it is yet to implement a plan to address these issues,” added Michael Jacobs, partner at Morrison & Foerster. “In the meantime, children in underserved districts fall further behind and lack even the most basic literacy skills. It’s time for the state to be held accountable for the success of every student. We hope this suit will lead to immediate and effective measures implemented by the state to help these struggling students and schools.”
The plaintiffs are asking the state to meet its constitutional obligations by ensuring that all schools deliver proven literacy instruction, literacy assessments and interventions, support for teachers, and implementation of practices to promote parent involvement and learning readiness. The suit includes non-charter and charter schools.
Bill Ainsworth, communications director for the California Department of Education (CDE) responded by saying that the CDE does not have a comment on the lawsuit, but that “California has one of the most ambitious programs in the nation to serve low-income students. California, through its Local Control Funding Formula, is investing more than $10 billion annually in extra funds for English Learners, students from low-income families, and Foster Youth. California collects high quality data in a wide variety of areas, including test scores, graduation rates, and chronic absenteeism, compiles the data and provides it to the public in the California School Dashboard. Educators turn data into action in two separate ways. School communities use the data to help direct the targeting of resources. Districts facing significant challenges qualify for the statewide System of Support. The system, launching this week, is offering 228 districts additional support next year, including the three schools named in the lawsuit.”
For more information on the lawsuit, visit www.LiteracyCalifornia.com