California Schools Fail to Teach Children to Read or Write, Suit Says

http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/California-schools-fail-to-tBob Egelko, SFGate, December 5, 2017each-children-to-read-12407882.php

California has broken its promise to millions of schoolchildren with an education system that is failing to teach students to read or write, advocates charged Tuesday in a lawsuit seeking a statewide right of “access to literacy.”

The suit was filed on behalf of current and former elementary school students and their families in two districts in Los Angeles and Stockton, and a charter school in Los Angeles County. The lead plaintiff is a 7-year-old second-grader who can’t spell words like “need” and “help,” lawyers said.

They said students in one charter school class couldn’t read their social studies lesson and had to listen to an audio version. Some Stockton students “start crying when asked to read out loud in class,” the lawsuit said. And one student said his brother didn’t learn to read until he was held in juvenile hall at age 16.

Statewide, the picture is equally grim, the suit said: Among the nation’s largest school districts, California has 11 of the 26 lowest-performing districts in literacy and basic education.

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In response, the state Department of Education, a defendant in the suit, said California “has one of the most ambitious programs in the nation to serve low-income students.”

The state spends more than $10 billion a year on programs for English learners, students from low-income families and foster youths, said the department, headed by Superintendent Tom Torlakson. It said it will provide further support next year to 228 school districts, including those of the three schools in the suit.

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The report found an “urgent need to address the language and literacy development of California’s underserved populations,” particularly minorities and the poor, and called for new approaches to reading instruction, early screening and remedial help. It also recommended steps to create a “welcoming environment” for parents who speak a language other than English at home.

None of those recommendations has been implemented, and “students in California continue to suffer from illiteracy,” the suit said. It seeks court orders requiring “appropriate literacy instruction at all grade levels” along with periodic screening of students to detect problems.

California, with more than 6 million public school students, plunged from the top to the bottom of national rankings in both school spending and test scores after passage of the Proposition 13 property tax cut in 1978. But Rosenbaum argued that improving student literacy would cost less than the current system.

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