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Published in Print: August 29, 2007, as Oakland Sued Over State-Mandated Report Cards

Oakland Sued Over State-Mandated Report Cards

Group alleges scanty data; warns other districts could face similar suits.

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California’s Oakland Unified School District is being accused in state court of failing to include all the required data on report cards that are meant to inform parents and the public about student achievement and school financial data—and this may not be the last such court challenge.

The announcement of the Aug. 13 lawsuit by San Francisco-based Public Advocates Inc. coincided with the release of the group’s third annual reportRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader on how well California districts are complying with state rules on the school accountability report cards. The organization reviewed reports from 876 schools in 20 districts across the state. While it found some improvement in the timeliness of districts’ release of the reports, it noted that 60 percent of the schools still are not providing all the required data.

Lawyers at Public Advocates have also warned eight other districts in California that they are facing possible legal action because they haven’t met the report-card regulations.

“Parents and community members have a right to vital information so they can evaluate the state of their schools and take actions to improve them and the learning opportunities for their children,” Jenny Pearlman, a staff lawyer for Public Advocates, said in a press release.

Confusing Document?

The law firm and advocacy group filed suit in superior court in Oakland, saying that not only are accountability report cards for many Oakland schools lacking information such as per-pupil spending figures, but that they also have not been available by the annual May 31 deadline for the past two years.

Because the 41,000-student district has been under state control since 2003, the lawsuit also names California Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell and Kimberly Statham, the state administrator for the Oakland district. Earlier this summer, the Oakland school board regained control of some operations.

Hilary McLean, a spokeswoman for the California Department of Education, said it was unfortunate that Public Advocates resorted to filing a lawsuit.

Troy Flin, a spokesman for the Oakland district, said the suit came as a surprise and a disappointment because school officials have been working with Public Advocates to address the group’s concerns.

“We’re close to being fully compliant,” he said. “It would be different if we had been unresponsive to their request.”

The use of the school report card was mandated as part of Proposition 98, a school finance measure approved by California voters in 1988.

While the state legislature has made several adjustments to the report card through the years, a 2005 study by three law professors at the University of California, Los Angeles, found the document to be confusing, densely written, and even hard for people with advanced college degrees to understand.

The professors found that the form was harder to follow than some Internal Revenue Service forms or prescription drug information sheets.

The need for better and more accessible data also was cited as one of the keys to improving the state’s finance and governance systems in a package of research reports released earlier this year. ("California’s Schooling Is ‘Broken’," March 19, 2007.)

Vol. 27, Issue 01, Page 20

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