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ACLU Sues the State of California for Failing to Teach 20,000 Students English

Who is at Fault for Students’ Failure to Learn English in California Schools?

I was surprised to learn on April 25, that the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit against the State of California for failing to correctly teach the English language. The lawsuit was filed by the ACLU on behalf of 20,000 students. The lawsuit is seeking a court order to ensure that students receive the courses they need to learn English, as many have been given low grades and are frequently being held back due to a language barrier.

Earlier this year, state officials said 98% of the state's 1.4 million English learners were receiving services. The number of students in the "2012 Cohort Graduation and Dropout Rates" is staggering.




State Department of Education statistics show 23.7 percent of English learners in the class of 2012 dropped out between 9th and 12th grade. State Department of Education statistics show 23.7 percent of English learners in the class of 2012 dropped out between 9th and 12th grade.

ACLU attorney Mark Rosenbaum said: “These kids are not getting the differentiated learning they’re supposed to be getting. English learners are falling behind without proper language lessons, even as school districts collect federal funds specifically for that purpose. Under state and federal law, schools are required to teach non-English speakers the language, but by its own records, the state isn’t offering English instruction to nearly 20,000 students.”

The suit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, accuses state education leaders of violating section 300 of the California Education Code, which states, in part, “The government and the public schools of California have a moral obligation and a constitutional duty to provide all of California’s children, regardless of their ethnicity or national origins, with the skills necessary to become productive members of our society, and of these skills, literacy in the English language is among the most important.”

Advocates of the lawsuits base their conclusions on information that school districts report to the state Department of Education. About 250 districts acknowledge they are providing no services or inappropriate language help to these students. One example is that of F.S., a student in the Compton Unified School District who was allegedly denied language help in third grade, failed most of his classes, and ultimately was retained. The next year, the same student, in the same school system, received help and showed sufficient progress in his classes to move on with his education.

Although federal and state funds are set aside to help English learners, the best approach has long been a topic of contention. It's more common for English-speaking teachers to receive training in how to make their lessons more accessible. And students can also receive support in classes taught in English.

For their part, state officials insist they are meeting their legal obligations and not shirking their responsibilities. The education department is "determined to ensure that all English-learner students receive appropriate instruction and services," said Chief Deputy Supt. of Public Instruction Richard Zeiger.

"When questions arose," he added, the department "asked local educational agencies to provide additional information regarding the services they are required to provide." Zeiger also urged parents with specific issues to contact the department though its established complaint process.

It seems to me the education department is being reactive rather than proactive. The department waits for a problem or complaint to occur and then responds to the matter. This is different from making sure the English language instruction and use of technology for English language students is provided on a timely basis. If those with inadequate English language skills don't learn them before going to college, there is no doubt they will suffer throughout their college education. I have seen it first hand as a college professor.

The sad part for California is that its education budget has been cut for about five straight years. California’s K-12 public schools have been cut by over $18 Billion, or roughly $3,051 per student during the 2009-2012 periods. Over 30,000 educators and 10,000 other school employees have lost their jobs during that same time. Class sizes are increasing; music, art and sports programs being eliminated; and computer labs, libraries and schools are being shut down.

According to a study Winners and Losers: Corrections and Higher Education in California, since 1980, higher education spending has decreased by 13 percent in inflation adjusted dollars, whereas spending on California's prisons and associated correctional programs has skyrocketed by 436 percent. The state now shells out more money from its general fund for the prison system than the higher education system.

These statistics are alarming. Unfortunately, they are likely to get worse before they get better. The causes of the problem are many, and that is a subject for another blog. If I can identify one factor that leads to the lagging English language skills and burgeoning prison population it is the breakdown in the family unit. All too many kids grow up in one-parent families with the result that responsibility and accountability are not adequately taught. All too many parents do not spend the time to teach their kids -- not only learning and technical skills but a work ethic.

Nothing will change in California until parents, guardians, and the kids themselves start to focus on learning, working hard, bettering themselves, and contributing to society. As for parents, what ever happened to the mantra of generations that we want our kids to have a better life than we had growing up?

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on May 9, 2011