Law & Courts

California Settlement Yielding School Improvements

By Linda Jacobson — August 14, 2007 4 min read

The settlement of a lawsuit focused on basic learning conditions in California’s schools is resulting in significant improvements, according to a new report from two of the organizations that filed the lawsuit.

After two full years of implementation of what is known as the Williams settlement legislation, students have received more than 88,000 new textbooks and other teaching materials, and more than 3,400 emergency repairs have been paid for with state money. Such upgrades also are helping attract and retain qualified teachers, says the report, which was slated for release Aug. 12 by the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Southern California and by Public Advocates, two of the three civil rights groups that filed the litigation in 2000.

According to the report, which reflects changes occurring during the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years, “teaching and learning conditions in California’s public school classrooms have materially improved as a direct result of the Williams standards and accountability systems.”

The report calls for “continued diligence,” however, so that more gains can be made.

The 2004 settlement in the case of Williams v. California came four years after Sweetie Williams and his son Eliezer—named as the lead plaintiffs in the class action—charged that the conditions at the school the young man attended in San Francisco were “dismal and unacceptable.” Broken toilets, cracked windows, drips from the ceiling, and a lack of up-to-date textbooks were some of the complaints listed in court documents. (“Calif. Law Eases Way for Emergency Work At Low-Ranked Schools,” Jan. 10, 2007.)

Ongoing Inspections

State legislation based on the settlement set forth a complex monitoring system to be carried out by California’s 58 county offices of education. While the law applies to all schools, low-performing schools in each county—those in the bottom third of the state’s Academic Performance Index, or API—are inspected for facility needs, the adequacy of students’ books and other materials, and proper certification of teachers.

The report says that over the second full year of monitoring, inspectors from the county offices visited 2,085 campuses—99 percent of the schools in the bottom three deciles of the API.

In Los Angeles County, for example, the percentage of schools in those categories with insufficient textbooks or instructional materials dropped to 14 percent in the second year of implementation from 22 percent in the first year.

And in the greater San Francisco Bay Area—another one of the four regions highlighted in the report—the percentages of schools with facility deficiencies fell to 63 percent, from 75 percent.

Lupe Delgado, the director of the Los Angeles County Office of Education’s Williams Implementation Project, said that prior to the settlement, schools used shifting enrollment numbers at the beginning of the school year as an excuse for not assigning textbooks to students in a timely way. Now, she said, schools make sure books are handed out within the first four weeks of the year, as the law requires.

“The districts are working toward improving in all of the areas,” Ms. Delgado said, but added that she agrees with the report that “we’re not at a hundred percent.”

An initial assessment from the ACLU, released in late 2005, concluded that the inspections already were making a difference. Schools no longer were putting off repairs, and vacant teaching positions were being filled.

Earlier this year, a new law went into effect that makes it easier for schools to pay for those repairs. The state’s Emergency Repair Program was converted from a reimbursement program into a grant program, which allows districts to receive the money upfront. More than $300 million is available in the fund, and $100 million is to be added each fiscal year until it reaches $800 million. (“Inspecting for Quality,” Jan. 4, 2006.)

Teachers Still Needed

The Williams settlement also has figured into other issues facing the state education system. Plaintiffs in a lawsuit that sought to stop administration of the California High School Exit Exam, Valenzuela v. O’Connell, argued that because the improvements sparked by the settlement have occurred unevenly across the state, many students, particularly English-language learners, have not had enough opportunity to learn the material on the test.

State education officials prevailed in the Valenzuela case, and last month a tentative settlement was reached that would require the state to pay for an additional two years of instruction for students who fail to pass the mandatory test before the end of senior year. The settlement still requires approval by the Democratic-controlled state legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican.

Authors of the new report say that while there is much to celebrate, many schools still lack qualified teachers. For example, in 2005-06, among low-performing schools, 13 percent of classes in which at least 20 percent or more of the students were English-language learners were taught by teachers without an English-learner credential.

“Continued vigilance by everyone involved in our public schools—the legislature, state agencies, county offices of education, school districts, administrators, teachers, community members, parents, and students—will be necessary,” the report says, “to ensure the gains in the first two years of the Williams legislation quickly lead to greater improvements and full compliance with the Williams standards.”

Ms. Delgado added that continued education is needed to make sure both school officials and parents understand how to use the complaint process, which allows parents, students, school employees, and members of the public to submit formal complaints on matters covered by the Williams settlement. Her office, she said, holds frequent meetings for PTA leaders.

“This is one of the areas where we get several questions,” Ms. Delgado said. “There will always be a Williams discussion.”

A version of this article appeared in the August 15, 2007 edition of Education Week as California Settlement Yielding School Improvements

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Measuring & Supporting Student Well-Being: A Researcher and District Leader Roundtable
Students’ social-emotional well-being matters. The positive and negative emotions students feel are essential characteristics of their psychology, indicators of their well-being, and mediators of their success in school and life. Supportive relationships with peers, school
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
Making Digital Literacy a Priority: An Administrator’s Perspective
Join us as we delve into the efforts of our panelists and their initiatives to make digital skills a “must have” for their district. We’ll discuss with district leadership how they have kept digital literacy
Content provided by Learning.com
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
School & District Management Webinar
How Schools Can Implement Safe In-Person Learning
In order for in-person schooling to resume, it will be necessary to instill a sense of confidence that it is safe to return. BD is hosting a virtual panel discussing the benefits of asymptomatic screening
Content provided by BD

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Law & Courts How a Cheerleader's Snapchat Profanity Could Shape the Limits of Students' Free Speech
Brandi Levy's social media post is the basis for a case before the U.S. Supreme Court on whether schools may punish off-campus speech.
9 min read
Image of Brandi Levy.
Brandi Levy, now an 18-year-old college freshman, was a cheerleader at Mahanoy Area High School in Pennsylvania when she made profane comments on Snapchat that are now at the center of a U.S. Supreme Court case on student speech rights.
Danna Singer/Provided by the American Civil Liberties Union
Law & Courts Student School Board Members Flex Their Civic Muscle in Supreme Court Free-Speech Case
Current and former student school board members add their growing voices to a potentially precedent-setting U.S. Supreme Court case.
7 min read
Image of the Supreme Court.
iStock/Getty
Law & Courts Justice Department Memo Could Stoke State-Federal Fights Over Transgender Students' Rights
Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, a Justice Department memo says.
3 min read
Stephanie Marty demonstrates against a proposed ban on transgender girls and women from female sports leagues outside the South Dakota governor's mansion in Pierre, S.D. on March 11, 2021.
Stephanie Marty demonstrates against a proposed ban on allowing transgender girls and women to play in female sports leagues outside the South Dakota governor's mansion in Pierre, S.D.
Stephen Groves/AP
Law & Courts Diverse Array of Groups Back Student in Supreme Court Case on Off-Campus Speech
John and Mary Beth Tinker, central to the landmark speech case that bears their name, argue that even offensive speech merits protection.
5 min read
In this photo taken Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013, Mary Beth Tinker, 61, shows an old photograph of her with her brother John Tinker to the Associated Press during an interview in Washington. Tinker was just 13 when she spoke out against the Vietnam War by wearing a black armband to her Iowa school in 1965. When the school suspended her, she took her free speech case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and won. Her message: Students should take action on issues important to them. "It's better for our whole society when kids have a voice," she says.
In this 2013 photo, Mary Beth Tinker shows a 1968 Associated Press photograph of her with her brother John Tinker displaying the armbands they had worn in school to protest the Vietnam War. (The peace symbols were added after the school protest). The Tinkers have filed a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting a Pennsylvania student who was disciplined for an offensive message on Snapchat.
Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP