Advocacy Law Groups Sue California Over Child Literacy

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Advocacy lawyers are suing the state of California because too many of its children can't read.

Two law firms representing three families of California schoolchildren filed the suit on Dec. 5 in the Los Angeles County Superior Court, Education Week reports.

The prosecutors claim the California constitution affords state citizens a "right to literacy" that the education system has failed to provide. The suit seeks "proven literacy instruction, literacy assessments and interventions, support for teachers, and implementation of practices to promote parent involvement and learning readiness."

California's Board of Education, Department of Education and state Superintendent Tom Torlakson were named as the defendants in the case.

"The state has long been aware of the urgency and the depth of the all-too-preventable literacy crisis, and yet it has not implemented a single targeted literacy program to remedy this crisis," said Mark Rosenbaum, a director at the pro-bono law group Public Counsel, a plaintiff in the suit. "The state system of public education in California is the great unequalizer ... California is dragging down the national when it comes to literacy and the delivery of basic education."

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Rosenbaum added that 11 of the 26 lowest performing schools in the nation are located in California. The state was among 14 others that performed lower than average in a 2015 reading assessment, according to national data, The Hill notes.

One of the schools represented in the lawsuit, La Salle Elementary in Los Angeles, was used as an example of underperformance. Out of 179 students, only 10 performed well enough to meet statewide standards.

"I chose to teach at La Salle because I wanted to help," said retired teacher David Moch, a plaintiff in the case. "Every day I was there, I witnessed students' lack of access to literacy."

Moch said that during his 18 years at La Salle, he had fifth graders in his kindergarten class, according to The Sacramento Bee. He and his fellow teachers reportedly received no assistance to deal with the problem, and any helpful programs they had were discontinued.

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Bill Ainsworth, a spokesman for the Department of Education, said he could not yet comment since the state has yet to be served with the lawsuit. However, he did say in an email that "California has one of the most ambitious programs in the nation to serve low-income students."

He noted that the state gives $10 billion in extra funds each year for English learners, foster children and low-income students. Some 228 districts, including those of the three schools in the lawsuit, will receive additional support in 2018 to improve underperforming schools.

Sources: Education Week, The Hill, The Sacramento Bee / Featured Image: Pixabay / Embedded Images: Russell Watkins/Department for International Development/Flickr, Jallinson01/Wikimedia Commons

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