A lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior County Court in early December 2016, on 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 – argues that the state has done nothing about a high number of schoolchildren who do not know how to read. The law firm, Public Counsel, filed the lawsuit to demand the California Department of Education address its “literacy crisis.” They say that the state has not followed suggestions from its own report from five years ago that suggested methods to increase the state’s literacy rate. The report said 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.
Lawyers allege that the state deprived these and many other students of a constitutionally guaranteed basic education because officials failed to teach students critical reading and writing skills. “The state has long been aware of the urgency and the depth of the all too preventable illiteracy crisis and yet it has not implemented a single targeted literacy program to remedy this crisis,” said Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer with Public Counsel, which along with the firm Morrison & Foerster, filed the suit. Last year, the school wide 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. To support their allegations, lawyers submitted Stanford University researchers’ ranking of the 26 lowest performing school districts in the U.S. based on literacy and basic education. Nearly half of the districts on the list are in California. The school districts include those that enroll students in Los Angeles, Santa Ana, San Bernardino, Fontana and Anaheim. The suit asks the court to require state officials to implement appropriate literacy screening, instruction, intervention and create a way for the state to find out when students aren’t getting proper literacy instruction and intervene.
The time period identified in the Stanford ranking study is when California’s English Language Arts standards (based on National Common Core ELA standards) were newly approved and implemented. Following the adoption of the standards was the employment of new state standardized testing with an entirely new test format administered on computers, that also created new challenges for students, teachers and schools. Scholars Alfe Kohn (Schooling beyond measure, The case against standardized testing), Dr. Stephen Krashen and others have argued that test scores have little relationship to actual learning. Kohn has said, “When will reporters understand that real learning at best is unrelated to higher scores and often is sacrificed to raise them?”
The Stanford study and other studies indicate positive and promising indicators in California. Graduation rates are on the rise. Bilingual programs are expanding which have been shown to benefit English learners. A multi-year national study that looked at high poverty schools that were outperforming everyone else included Artesia High School in Los Angeles. Since 2005, Artesia High students have improved math scores that match much of the states, are significantly outperforming in English Language Arts and almost all students graduate. These findings (and descriptions of other high performing high poverty schools) can be found in Karin Chenoweth’s book Schools That Succeed: How Educators Marshal the Power of Systems for Improvement
California Department of Education spokesman Bill Ainsworth said officials could not comment because the state had not yet been served with the lawsuit. But he said in an email, “California has one of the most ambitious programs in the nation to serve low-income students.” Ainsworth pointed to more than $10 billion annually in extra funds for English language learners, foster children and students from low-income families. Some 228 districts will get additional support this year to help struggling schools, including the three named in the lawsuit.