State of illiteracy: Calif. sued over failing schools

Sunday, December 10, 2017
Michael F. Haverluck (

classroom scene 2Illiteracy in California has hit epidemic proportions – to the point that a lawsuit has been waged against the state for failing to adequately educate all students and pulling the test scores of the rest of the nation down.

The lawsuit waged against the State of California declared that the Golden State is in the midst of a “literacy crisis” – one that permeates most grade levels but is most highly evident in elementary schools. It is a crisis that is said to be due to inadequate education received by students in low-income areas – a problem that is exacerbated by the influx of illegal immigration from the state’s southern border with Mexico.

Falling way behind

Prosecuting attorneys point out in their case against the state that both traditional and charter schools are failing to keep up with the nation’s literacy standards.

“According to the lawsuit, 11 of the nation’s 26 lowest-performing large school districts are in California,” TheBlaze reported. “Since 2015, less than one-half of students from third grade to fifth grade have met California literacy standards.”

It is argued that school officials and the curriculum are largely to blame.

“The state’s system of education is failing them,” attorneys state in the lawsuit. “An education that does not provide access to literacy cannot be called an education at all. In California’s education system, the children of the ‘haves’ receive access to a basic education, while the children of the ‘have nots’ are barred access – rendering the state system of public education the great un-equalizer.”

Students condemned to illiteracy?

This latest legal action over rife illiteracy is reported to be unprecedented.

“[This is the first lawsuit in the United States to] seek recognition of the constitutional right to literacy,” the New York Times reported

Michael Jacobs – who serves a partner with the firm that filed the lawsuit, Morrison & Foerster – charge the state with failing to intervene on behalf of low-performing students on K–12 public school campuses.

“The State of California is directly responsible for these inadequacies that disproportionately affect low-income students,” Jacobs asserted, according to U.S. News & World Report. “The state continues to allow these children to attend schools that are unable to provide them an opportunity to obtain basic literacy.”

The law firm is representing students from three separate public elementary schools in California, as well as a number of educators and community organizations in the state.

"We teachers are not getting the support we need," insisted plaintiff David Moch – a former teacher at La Salle Avenue Elementary School, according to the national news outlet. "We did not get adequate training or literacy coaching. We did not have enough trained support staff available to give struggling readers the interventions they needed."

A look at the problem

But this problem with illiteracy did not just pop up all of the sudden, as attempts to do something about it have come and gone – unsuccessfully.

“In 2012, the state drafted a plan to address literacy development,” TheBlaze’s Teri Webster recounted. “The state called literacy a dire situation – especially among the state’s underserved populations, including low-income and minority students, as well as those with disabilities and those still learning English.”

Public Counsel Mark Rosenbaum says that with California being the most populous of all states, it is making the entire country look bad academically.

“When it comes to literacy and the delivery of basic education, California is dragging down the nation,” Rosenbaum told The Associated Press.

Morrison & Foerster filed the suit on behalf of three low-performing schools – La Salle Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles, Van Buren Elementary School in Stockton and Children of Promise Preparatory Academy charter school in Inglewood – which are among the nation’s worst when it comes to literacy.

“The Stockton Unified School District in Stockton is the third-lowest-performing district in the nation, performing only slightly above the Detroit City School District,” Webster informed. “Last year, La Salle Elementary had a 4-percent proficiency rate in reading. Up to 171 students of 179 tested failed to meet state standards, according to the lawsuit.”

They are suing the State of California, the State Board of Education, the California Department of Education and California State Superintendent Tom Torlakson.

Education Department Spokesman Bill Ainsworth denied the lawsuit’s claims that schools lack adequate training and resources – especially in areas where a high percentage of students are identified as underperforming readers – and he noted that California is investing more than $10 billion a year to help disadvantaged students succeed.

“[California has] one of the nation’s most ambitious programs to serve low-income students,” Ainsworth told the New York Times.

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