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EdVoice’s Bill Lucia: Sacramento tries to sweep poor school performance under the rug

Bill Lucia | May 22, 2018

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Sacramento politicians have turned their backs on children in California’s lowest-performing schools.

In representing the state Board of Education and Superintendent Tom Torlakson in an official response released last week to a lawsuit filed against them in December 2017, California’s attorney general asserted that parents and taxpayers should not be able to complain if only 4 percent of kids in a school can read at grade level. The lawsuit, Ella T. v. The State of California, was filed in Los Angeles by Morrison & Foerster LLP and Public Counsel on behalf of 10 students. It alleges that the state has violated these students’ fundamental right to a basic education by depriving them of access to an equitable opportunity to learn to read at grade level. The state’s response to these children is, in essence, “So what?”

Of course, the state didn’t miss a beat in claiming that it has made “extraordinary efforts” to provide extra billions of dollars to school districts through the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), which purportedly addresses the extra needs of English learners, students in poverty, and foster youth to help them read at grade level. With all the extra money and the listing of state priorities, according to the attorney general, the state Board of Education and the superintendent of public instruction have met any obligation owed to California’s children. And, as to the 96 percent of students at La Salle Avenue Elementary School who haven’t been taught to read? Well, they should simply take their complaints elsewhere. In other words: Tough luck, kids. Mala suerte, niños.

Unfortunately for California’s children, this lawsuit isn’t the only example of politicians turning their back and skirting their responsibilities to help our most vulnerable students. When scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were released in April, many state leaders in Sacramento did the same thing. The NAEP, often referred to as the Nation’s Report Card, showed California again falls near the bottom of national rankings. Despite all the “extraordinary efforts” and billions of dollars of new money going to school district bureaucracies, California’s low-income fourth-graders fall next-to-last place in math. In eighth-grade reading, NAEP results revealed that the average score for African-American students was 28 points lower than for white students.

State Board of Education President Michael Kirst, who recently reported he will no longer seek another term, said he was “pleased” with the progress on the NAEP.

California’s statewide tests, given to all public school students in grades 3-8 and 11, didn’t paint a much better picture. Less than half of all students in California were proficient in reading. Nevertheless, Torlakson also said he was “pleased” with these results. Meanwhile, at La Salle Elementary School, one of the schools in the Ella T. case, not even 5 percent of students met grade-level standards in reading on California tests. The results from these state tests for every school in California were sent to Sacramento bureaucrats; simply put, the state knows these schools are failing children.

Do the state and its politicians have a responsibility to educate California’s children? The California Constitution and the California Supreme Court say yes. Instead of patting themselves on the back at the same time they are turning their backs to our kids, state politicians and bureaucrats should actually recognize that throwing money at the school bureaucracy is not enough and California’s “leaders” have a constitutional responsibility to do something serious about persistent school failure.

As part of LCFF, the state, apparently not trusting the competence of the California Department of Education, created yet another state bureaucracy called the California Collaborative for Educational Excellence (CCEE). But the CCEE has done nothing to help schools (its director called part of the school accountability process a “monstrosity”) and hasn’t even visited the schools described in the Ella T. lawsuit.

Sacramento is pouring more money into school districts and bureaucracy, but that doesn’t mean the politicians have figured out a way to get the money to the classrooms where the kids and teachers really need it. Opportunity and achievement gaps don’t magically go away with more money when there’s no accountability or transparency for the money or academic results.

California politicians have taken very little action to make sure that each individual child has the opportunity to reach their full potential, no matter which public school they attend in this state. Instead of being “pleased,” the politicians need to take responsibility — and then take action. They must start by standing and facing the situation the children of California and their parents face every morning and admit that the state is facing an education crisis.

Bill Lucia is president and CEO of EdVoice, which advocates for policies to increase measurable student achievement for all students in California and eliminate inequality of educational opportunity in public schools.

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