SAN DIEGO – A group of prominent lawyers representing teachers and students from poor performing schools sued California on Tuesday, arguing that the state has done nothing about a high number of schoolchildren who do not know how to read.
The advocacy law firm, Public Counsel, filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court to demand the California Department of Education address its "literacy crisis." The state has not followed suggestions from its own report on the problem five years ago, the lawsuit said.
"When it comes to literacy and the delivery of basic education, California is dragging down the nation," said Public Counsel lawyer Mark Rosenbaum, who sued along with the law firm Morrison & Foerster.
Assessments found less than half of California students from third grade to fifth grade have met statewide literacy standards since 2015. Both traditional and charter schools are failing, Rosenbaum said.
Of the 26 lowest-performing districts in the nation, 11 are in California, according to the lawsuit. Texas, the largest state after California, has only one district among the 26.
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 that "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 next year to help struggling schools, including the three named in the lawsuit.
Among the plaintiffs are current and former teachers and students from three of California's lowest performing schools: La Salle Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles; Children of Promise Preparatory Academy, a charter school in the Los Angeles suburb of Inglewood; and Van Buren Elementary School, in the central California city of Stockton.
One of the plaintiffs is an 11-year-old student identified only as Katie T. When she completed fifth grade at La Salle, she was at the reading level of a student just starting third grade and was given no meaningful help, the lawsuit said.
State assessments found 96 percent of students at the school were not proficient in English or math, according to the lawsuit. Only eight of the school's 179 students were found to be proficient when tested last year.
David Moch, another plaintiff, is a retired teacher who taught at La Salle for 18 years. Moch said he had fifth graders in his kindergarten class.
Teachers were not given training or help to deal with the situation and programs that did seem to make a dent were discontinued, Moch said.
"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."
The plaintiffs want the state to create an accountability system to monitor literacy levels. They also seek screenings of reading levels at the beginning and middle of the school year for elementary school students and interventions based on programs proven to succeed.