By CHRISTINE HAUSER DEC. 6, 2017 The New York Times
Parents and educators at struggling schools in California say students there are not reading well, and lawyers this week sued the state, arguing that it had failed to provide the children with the resources they needed to learn.
The lawsuit was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Tuesdayon behalf of parents, teachers and students at three schools — La Salle Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles; Van Buren Elementary School in Stockton; and Children of Promise Preparatory Academy, a charter school in Inglewood.
It said California had failed to follow up on its own report by state literacy experts that found there was a “critical need” to address the skills and development of students, particularly those who are learning English, have disabilities, are economically disadvantaged, or are African-American or Hispanic.
The suit, announced in a statement, is the first in the United States to seek recognition of the constitutional right to literacy, the lawyers said. It alleges that the state failed to intervene when students achieved low proficiency rates in reading and fell behind at the three schools, which are among the lowest performing in the state.
“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,” said Michael Jacobs, a partner at Morrison & Foerster, which filed the suit along with the nonprofit law firm Public Counsel.
“In the meantime, children in underserved districts fall further behind and lack even the most basic literacy skills,” he said. “It’s time for the state to be held accountable for the success of every student.”
The state of California, its Education Department and Board, and the superintendent of public instruction, Tom Torlakson, were named as defendants in the lawsuit.
A spokesman for the Education Department, Bill Ainsworth, had no comment on the lawsuit. But he said that California had one of the nation’s “most ambitious” programs to serve low-income students, and that it was investing more than $10 billion annually to help underserved students.
The state also collects data to help educators figure out where to target resources, he said, adding that 228 districts will receive additional support next year, including the three schools named in the suit.
Last year, the schoolwide proficiency rate in reading at La Salle Elementary was 4 percent, and as many as 171 students out of the 179 tested were not proficient by state standards, the lawsuit says. One was an 11-year-old boy who tested at an early third-grade reading level when he was finishing fifth grade.
The schoolwide reading-proficiency rate was 6 percent at Van Buren, which is in the Stockton Unified School District, the third-lowest performing large district in the nation. One student there, who is now 14, read at a second-grade level when he was in seventh grade, the lawsuit says.
At Children of Promise, the reading-proficiency rate was 11 percent in the 2016-17 school year. In one classroom, teachers used an audio version of a social studies paper because students were unable to read it.
In addition to literacy levels, the lawsuit also outlined problems with crowded classrooms, high teacher turnover, and a lack of guidance and assignments in classes.
It says the state never implemented the conclusions of its 2012 report on literacy, the Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy Plan, which said that many students in the state would be at “academic risk” if improved literacy instruction was not an “immediate and central focus” of the system.
Plaintiffs include Cadre and Fathers & Families of San Joaquin, local outreach and advocacy groups that help struggling families.
“Public education was intended as the ‘great equalizer’ in our democracy, enabling all children opportunity to pursue their dreams and better their circumstances,” said Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer with Public Counsel. “But in California it has become the ‘great un-equalizer.’”