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California sued for 'dragging down' US in literacy & education

California sued for 'dragging down' US in literacy & education
California is facing a lawsuit over a literacy crisis, with lawyers claiming that state authorities have not followed their own suggestions on how to address the issue. They say the state is "dragging down the nation" when it comes to education.

The suit was filed by a group of lawyers representing teachers and students from three of California's lowest-performing schools – La Salle Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles; the charter school Children of Promise Preparatory Academy in Inglewood; and Van Buren Elementary School in Stockton.

Of the 26 lowest-performing school districts in the nation, 11 are in California, the lawsuit says. But the state's massive size apparently has little to do with it, as Texas – the largest state after California – has just one district on the list.

“When it comes to literacy and the delivery of basic education, California is dragging down the nation,” said public counsel lawyer Mark Rosenbaum, according to AP. He is representing the plaintiffs along with the law firm Morrison & Foerster.

According to Rosenbaum, assessments found that less than half of California students from third grade to fifth grade have met statewide literacy standards since 2015. The failure is seen in both traditional and charter schools.

The lawsuit says that state assessments found that 96 percent of students at La Salle were not proficient in English or math. Only eight out of 179 students, or 4.4 percent, were found to be proficient when tested last year.

“This is in full view of the state,” Rosenbaum said, as quoted by the Los Angeles Times. “They haven’t done anything in terms of working with the district or working with the school to address a problem that has... persisted year after year after year.”

The lawsuit has pointed the finger at California's own suggestions to improve literacy, made in a report commissioned by the state superintendent and board of education president five years ago. Despite having ample time to do so, the state has failed to adopt or implement an adequate plan based on those suggestions, the plaintiffs say.

One of the plaintiffs is an 11-year-old girl who was at the reading level of a student just starting third grade, when she was actually in fifth grade at La Salle, the lawsuit says, alleging she was given no meaningful help.

Another plaintiff is David Moch, a retired teacher who taught at La Salle for 18 years and said he had fifth-graders in his kindergarten class. He said teachers were not given training or help to deal with the situation, and that any programs which seemed to help were ultimately discontinued.

“I chose to teach at La Salle because I wanted to help,” he said. “Every day I was there, I witnessed students' lack of access to literacy.”

“We need citizens that can read. We need citizens that can vote,” Moch said. “Once you get behind, if there’s no intervention, there’s no catching up. The level of the work is getting more intense and multiplied at every level.”

The suit is asking that California creates an accountability system to monitor literacy levels, and for screenings of reading levels to take place at the beginning and middle of the school year for elementary school students. The plaintiffs want intervention tactics with proven success rates to take place when needed.

California Department of Education spokesman Robert Oakes declined to comment on the suit but told the LA Times in an email that the state allocates additional funding for high-needs students and makes data available for “school communities” to use in the “targeting of resources.”