LOS ANGELES - The ACLU and Public Advocates released a report today detailing new ways parents, students and educators are improving public schools one year after important changes in education law went into effect.
The report, which chronicles the first year after a settlement was reached in the historic class action education lawsuit Williams v. California, identifies successes and challenges so far in school district, county, state and community implementation of those new laws.
"This settlement has helped empower school districts and communities with resources to identify and fix problems in schools quickly," said Brooks Allen, an ACLU/SC staff attorney. "Williams provides a foundation for improving California's public education system."
Williams, originally filed in May 2000, charged the state with reneging on its constitutional obligation to provide sufficient instructional materials, adequate learning facilities and qualified teachers. The settlement, which was reached in August 2004, and subsequent legislation hold schools accountable for delivering these basic necessities and provides about $1 billion to accomplish these goals.
The report specifically details how new accountability systems help ensure that all students receive sufficient instructional materials, properly assigned teachers and safe, clean, and functional classrooms. In addition, the report identifies three ways in which school officials, parents, students and teachers can identify problems and create positive change in public schools.
Districts are now required to conduct rigorous self-evaluations through facilities inspection systems and annual instructional materials hearings and then report results to parents and students through public resolutions and School Accountability Report Cards. Parents can use the Report Cards to compare schools and advocate for improvements.
Students, parents, community members, and teachers can now report where a school lacks sufficient textbooks or instructional materials, safe and healthy facilities, or properly assigned teachers through the new Uniform Complaint Process. Complaints must be addressed within 30 working days.
County superintendents are now visiting and reviewing low-performing schools to ensure there are sufficient instructional materials, properly assigned teachers, and clean, safe, and functional facilities. Before the Williams legislation, problems like a lack of textbooks could go unnoticed by the school district. Already students across the state have received tens of thousands of new books and materials and hundreds of unsafe and unhealthy facility conditions have been repaired.
"Governor Schwarzenegger deserves a great deal of credit for settling this case," said John Affeldt, managing attorney for Public Advocates in San Francisco. "Of course, not all problems have been solved in all schools, but the good progress in the first year shows reform can happen with focused support and accountability."
"What we're seeing is that Williams can be a force for change," said Dr. Darline Robles, Los Angeles County Superintendent. "It creates a powerful combination of district self-study supported by county office oversight. I believe the new laws are having their intended effect."
For an electronic or original copy of the report or to talk about specific improvements in your county, please contact Elizabeth Brennan at (213) 977-5252.