School Climate & Safety

Calif. Districts Improve Services for Poor Students, Report Finds

By Lesli A. Maxwell — October 02, 2013 2 min read

California districts have made significant upgrades to facilities, textbooks, and teacher assignments in schools that serve large numbers of poor children, says a new report from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Nearly a decade after settling a class action lawsuit that was brought by the ACLU and other civil rights groups on behalf of children who lacked access to safe buildings and basic learning resources in their schools, California’s public schools have driven down the numbers of teachers who were “misassigned” based on their qualifications, lowered the number of buildings considered unsafe or unclean, and increased access to textbooks and instructional materials, according to the ACLU’s report card on the Williams v. California settlement.

All schools in California must comply with the terms of the Williams settlement, but only those that score in the bottom 30 percent on state exams are closely monitored by the state’s county offices of education.

Specifically, the ACLU report found that:

• Thirteen percent of teachers were misassigned in the 2010-11 school year, a drop from 29 percent in 2005-06, according to the state’s teacher credentialing agency. The ACLU said that improvement was based mostly on efforts to ensure that the state’s large population of English-learners are taught by teachers who’ve been trained to meet their needs.

• Fewer than 5 percent of schools monitored by county offices of education were found to have insufficient textbooks and instructional materials in 2012-13, down from 19 percent in the first school year after the Williams settlement was reached.

• In the first four years after the settlement, monitors identified emergency facility conditions at 11 percent to 13 percent of low-performing schools, a figure that dropped to 4 percent in 2012-13.

One major shortcoming the ACLU identified is that the state has not met its obligation to provide hundreds of millions of dollars in emergency repair funds to schools and that many of them remain on long waiting lists to receive cash to pay for safety repairs.

The report also noted that the improvements came even as California’s recession forced deep budget cuts to K-12 education. Districts are now in the middle of adjusting to a major overhaul of the state’s school financing system, which is designed to provide additional funds to disadvantaged students and English-learners, but there are still many kinks to be worked out, as my colleague Andrew Ujifusa reports.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.