Central Valley parents, students, sue state over literacy
December 6, 2017
• Say California public schools do not adequately teach students even the basics
• “California is singlehandedly dragging down the nation”
Students, parents, and the advocacy organizations CADRE and Fathers & Families of San Joaquin 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 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 in Los Angeles, the 22nd lowest performing school district in the nation, Van Buren Elementary School in Stockton— the third lowest performing school district in the nation, and the charter school Children of Promise Preparatory Academy (Inglewood).
The civil rights action contends that literacy is the single most urgent crisis confronting California schools today.
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 4, 6, 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,'" says attorney Mark Rosenbaum, of the firm 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, the lawsuit says.
"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," says Michael Jacobs, partner at the law firm Morrison & Foerster, which is also representing the plaintiffs. "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."
Plaintiffs ask 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.