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Lawsuit: California has a literacy crisis; test scores drag down rest of nation

A lawsuit alleges that California has a "literacy crisis" and fails to properly educate all students. (Duane Prokop/Getty Images)

lawsuit filed this week declares that California has a "literacy crisis" and fails to properly educate all students.

According to the lawsuit, 11 of the nation's 26 lowest-performing large school districts are in California. Since 2015, less than one-half of students from third grade to fifth grade have met California literacy standards. Both traditional and charter schools are failing, attorneys said.

"The state's system of education is failing them," the lawsuit states. "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 unequalizer."

The lawsuit is the first in the United States to "seek recognition of the constitutional right to literacy," the New York Times reported. It alleges that the state failed to intervene on behalf of low-performing students.

"The State of California is directly responsible for these inadequacies that disproportionately affect low-income students," Michael Jacobs, a partner at Morrison & Foerster, which filed the lawsuit said in a statement. "The state continues to allow these children to attend schools that are unable to provide them an opportunity to obtain basic literacy."

In 2012, the state drafted a plan to address literacy development. 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.

"When it comes to literacy and the delivery of basic education, California is dragging down the nation," Public Counsel attorney Mark Rosenbaum, told The Associated Press.

Who filed the lawsuit?

Attorneys from Public Counsel and Morrison & Foerster filed the lawsuit Tuesday in California Superior Court on behalf of parents, teachers, and students at three schools: La Salle Avenue Elementary School in Los Angeles; Van Buren Elementary School in Stockton; and Children of Promise Preparatory Academy, a charter school in Inglewood. 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.

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.

Who is being sued?

The state of California, the State Board of Education, California Department of Educationand state superintendent Tom Torlakson, are named as defendants in the lawsuit.

How can the California fix the problem?

A former teacher said teachers lack the resources and training needed to address the problem.

"We teachers are not getting the support we need," one of the plaintiffs, David Moch, a former teacher at La Salle Avenue Elementary School, said.

"We did not get adequate training or literacy coaching,” Moch added. “We did not have enough trained support staff available to give struggling readers the interventions they needed."

The state needs more teacher training, more resources for teachers, the lawsuit says. The state should also intervene in areas where large numbers of students are identified as being underperforming readers.

Bill Ainsworth, a spokesman for the Education Department, declined to comment on the lawsuit. But he told the Times that California had "one of the nation’s most ambitious programs to serve low-income students," and was investing more than $10 billion annually to help disadvantaged students.

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