LOS ANGELES - Today, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, together with other public interest groups and the law firm of Morrison & Foerster, who represent a class of over two million California school children, submitted expert testimony on the conditions many of California's public school students encounter on a daily basis.
The problems documented in the expert reports represent the core of a class action lawsuit, Williams v. California, filed against the State on behalf of students who attend substandard schools in California. The suit demands that the State ensure that students have access to the bare essentials needed to learn: trained teachers, sufficient instructional materials, and adequate learning facilities for all.
The reports were prepared by the leading national experts in the field of education, including Professor Jeannie Oakes of UCLA, Professor Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University, former New York Commissioner of Education Thomas Sobol, Professor Michelle Fine of the City University of New York and others.
Among the key findings are:
' Qualified teachers, relevant instructional materials that students may use in school and at home, and clean, safe, and educationally appropriate facilities are fundamentally important to students' education.
' Many California students do not have the teachers, materials, and facilities that are fundamental to their learning and that are enjoyed by the majority of California students. The burdens of these serious shortfalls are borne most heavily in high-poverty schools, disproportionately attended by children of color and students still learning English.
' Poor school conditions breed social alienation and pose real threats to students' health and well-being.
' Actions (and inaction) by the State have either contributed to or failed to prevent students' lack of access to qualified teachers, appropriate instructional materials, and adequate school facilities.
"These findings make clear that the State must alter its policies and practices if it is to ensure that all students have access to the basics of educational quality and opportunity," said Jeannie Oakes, Presidential Professor and Director of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access (IDEA).
"It will come as no surprise to the citizenry or the judiciary that there are schools in the State that are in horrible condition," said Michael A. Jacobs, a partner at the law firm of Morrison & Foerster. "What may come as a surprise is how often the State has actually contributed to this situation, and how little has been done to fix it."
Professor Linda Darling-Hammond of Stanford University outlines the effects that teacher quality and subject-specific teacher training have on student achievement, even after factoring out the effects of student poverty. Noting that California has more uncredentialed teachers, a total of 42,000, than 25 other states combined, Darling-Hammond goes on to say, "in some schools, the proportions of teachers on emergency permits and waivers total well over half of the staff. These schools were almost invariably those serving large concentrations of low-income and minority students in urban schools, and they were often the same schools that lacked supplies, materials, adequate facilities, and the other elements of a sound, basic education."
In his expert testimony, former New York Commissioner of Education, Thomas Sobol makes clear that qualified teachers, appropriate instructional materials, and adequate facilities are required for educational opportunity.
"Asking children to attend school in insulting environments where the plaster is crumbling, the roof is leaking, and classes are being held in unlikely places because of overcrowded conditions has an ongoing, repetitive undercutting effect, sending a message of diminished value to the children," Sobol stated. "Children who see rats in their classrooms and schools, for example, learn wholly apart from their teachers' lessons that their schools are places where no one stops rats from running across the floor and where people in authority must not care very much about student learning and about students themselves because the people in authority fail to prevent the presence of the rats. By contrast, sending children to school in adequate facilities sends the opposite message: You count; do well."
City University of New York Professor Michelle Fine surveyed over 100 California public school students and concluded that depriving students of trained teachers, sufficient instructional materials, and habitable, uncrowded facilities has strongly stigmatizing effects on students, which in turn undermines students' learning opportunities.
"The conditions in these schools threaten students' social values of integrity, discipline, and civic-mindedness and place in jeopardy a love of learning and enthusiasm for life-long learning," said Professor Fine. The conditions in these schools convert yearning to anger, pride to shame, and civic engagement to alienation."
The reports suggest a number of reforms that the State may take to improve conditions. These reforms include:
' Set State standards that specify the resources and conditions that are essential for teaching and learning, in addition to content and performance standards;
' Establish unambiguous lines of State, regional, and district responsibility for ensuring that all students have these learning resources and conditions, and develop mechanisms that hold the appropriate officials at each of these levels accountable;
' Ensure that the accountability system is reciprocal - i.e., that it includes a two-way flow of accountability information and provides legitimate roles for local communities, parents, and students in holding the system accountable;
' Base the school funding system on what providing essential resources and conditions actually costs, with adjustments for cost differences in schools serving different communities and students;
' Expand the State accountability system to accurately and fairly measure and report learning resources and conditions, as well as test score achievement.
"If this were a report card, the state would have received failing marks in every subject," said Mark Rosenbaum, legal director for the ACLU/SC. "The experts' reports document a two-tier school system that is the modern day equivalent of the separate and unequal school system condemned by the Supreme Court nearly a half century ago. The scary part is that the State rejects any accountability for its system that leaves behind most low income children and children of color."
"In many ways, [these reports go] to great lengths to demonstrate what is patently obvious to great numbers of California school children and their parents as well as uncontested by all observers of California's education system," stated Professor Jeannie Oakes. "For children to be educated, they require basic educational tools - teachers, books, and safe, healthy, and uncrowded schools. Teachers, books, and adequate school buildings are the staples of American teaching and learning. They are not usually thought of as a educational resources or conditions whose availability varies significantly among schools, or whose centrality to education requires examination, documentation, and defense."
Copies of the expert reports are available on a new website launched today about this litigation: www.decentschools.org. In addition to these reports, the website contains all the pleadings in the case and links to education statistics and research throughout the state.