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Investigating the Claims in Williams v. State of California: An Unconstitutional Denial of Education's Basic Tools?

by Jeannie Oakes - 2004

What basic conditions and opportunities do standards-based schooling reforms require? To what extent do students currently have access to these resources and conditions? How does the distribution of these basic educational tools interweave with students’ race, language proficiency, and poverty status? To what extent do state policies (including high-stakes, test-based accountability systems) ensure that all students have adequate and equitable opportunities to learn what a standards-based educational system demands of them? What kind of data is available to answer these questions, to whom are data available, and what data are lacking?

This special double issue (Volume 106, No. 10 and 11) includes articles by a group of scholars who are interested in the educational and legal parameters that shape students rights to receive adequate and equal support for their schooling. Over the past two years the scholars have conducted empirical and analytic studies focused on issues emerging from Williams v. State of California. The Williams plaintiffs allege that California has failed its constitutional obligations to educate all of its students and to do so on equal terms. The articles set the specific complaints of the case against evidence about Californias current schooling conditions and its state policy environment. However, the articles also illuminate issues of adequacy and equity in standards-based reform that extend far beyond Williams and California. Using Williams as the example, the articles advance our understanding of issues that confront many states: What basic conditions and opportunities do standards-based schooling reforms require? To what extent do students currently have access to these resources and conditions? How does the distribution of these basic educational tools interweave with students race, language proficiency, and poverty status? To what extent do state policies (including high-stakes, test-based accountability systems) ensure that all students have adequate and equitable opportunities to learn what a standards-based educational system demands of them? What kind of data is available to answer these questions, to whom are data available, and what data are lacking?


Williams v. State of California has attracted the participation of virtually every major civil rights group in California. Along with Morrison and Foerster, one of the worlds largest law firms, these groups represent the class of children consigned to schools that have the fewest qualified teachers, least adequate curriculum materials, and poorest facilities of all schools in the state. The plaintiffs claim that these low levels of resources are evidence of Californias failure to provide millions of children primarily low-income children, immigrant children, and children of color with the basic tools of education. The Williams complaint opens with the following paragraph:

Tens of thousands of children attending public schools located throughout the State of California are being deprived of basic educational opportunities available to more privileged children attending the majority of the States public schools. State law requires students to attend school. Yet, all too many California school children must go to schools that shock the conscience. Those schools lack the bare essentials required of a free and common school education that the majority of students throughout the State enjoy: trained teachers, necessary educational supplies, classrooms, even seats in classrooms, and facilities that meet basic health and safety standards. Students must therefore attempt to learn without books and sometimes without any teachers, and in schools that lack functioning heating or air conditioning systems, that lack sufficient numbers of functioning toilets, and that are infested with vermin, including rats, mice, and cockroaches. These appalling conditions in California public schools represent extreme departures from accepted educational standards and yet they have persisted for years and have worsened over time. Students who are forced to attend schools with these conditions are deprived of essential educational opportunities to learn. Plaintiffs bring this suit in an effort to ensure that their schools meet basic minimal educational norms.

Williams v. California was filed on the 46th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education in May 2000. As the case approached this trial date, Californias Governor Gray Davis responded by trumpeting the success of his standards-based education reform agenda in bringing educational opportunity to every deserving child.1 Indeed, like many states over the past few years, California has adopted a set of academic content standards, aligned textbook and teacher education policies to those standards, and established a statewide testing program with rewards and sanctions attached to students test performance.

Yet these reforms have left enormous problems unresolved. The states low levels of spending over the past two decades (precipitated in large part by Proposition 13--Californias taxpayers revolt) have undermined the states ability to maintain school facilities, provide adequate educational equipment and materials, or sustain a qualified teaching workforce. In both 2002 and 2003, California ranked 46th among states in the adequacy of educational resources it provides (in terms of per-pupil spending relative to per capita income and per-pupil spending adjusted for cost of living), earning the state grades of F and D on Education Weeks annual report cards of educational quality. The decades long under commitment of resources has left the system unable to provide students adequate opportunities to learn.

The burdens of Californias education shortfall (and of its current reforms) are borne most heavily in high-poverty schools, disproportionately attended by children of color and immigrants still learning English. Such students are more often housed in overcrowded, deteriorating facilities and, with few exceptions, are the only students who attend schools on the states own critically overcrowded list. Their schools more frequently lack the curriculum and instructional resources they need to meet the standards. These are also schools with the fewest qualified teachers,2 and where student achievement and college-going remain very low. Californias limited approach to educational accountability renders the state unable to prevent, discover, and correct these gross inadequacies and inequalities. These problems and the possibility for fundamental change underlie Williams v. State of California.


Williams v. State of California is grounded in two fundamental principles. One is that the state is responsible to ensure that every student has the essential tools of education. The second is that education in California is a fundamental right that must be provided to all students on equal terms. These principles require the state to create and maintain a system of management and oversight that either prevents inequalities in the provision of the essential tools of education or discovers and corrects inequalities that arise. The plaintiffs have charged that Californias educational system fails to fulfill this fundamental obligation.

Williams both relates to and differs from fiscal equity cases (e.g., Californias Serrano v. Priest) and education adequacy cases (e.g., Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. State of New York). Rather than focusing directly on money, Williams seeks to make real the states constitutional responsibility by attending to what is provided to individual students in classrooms. It seeks a system of accountability that ensures that basic tools are provided on an adequate, continuing, and equal basis. Importantly, the case does not presume to guarantee a high-quality education to all the states children. It merely seeks a minimum threshold for educational provisions, below which no child must be made to suffer.

In their complaint, the Williams plaintiffs identified qualified teachers, a sufficient supply of instructional materials, and adequate school buildings as Investigating the Claims in Williams v. State of California 1891the rock-bottom floor required to provide a basic and equal education to young people in 21st century California. That is, these are foundational resources of schooling, in part because they contribute to students academic achievement. The plaintiffs do not argue that the presence of teachers, books, and decent school buildings guarantees high-achieving schools but rather that without them local communities simply cannot create or maintain schools that provide students an education to which Californias students have a right. Throughout, the plaintiffs case is guided by principles both of logic and statistical analysis that point to these particular educational resources as necessary but not sufficient for students to receive the minimum opportunities for the education that the states own regulations and law require. The necessary-but-not-sufficient formulation stands in stark contrast to the states counterarguments that seek to disregard the states obligation to provide adequate levels of any educational resource that does not in isolation of other resources prove unequivocally (using the single metric of student scores on standardized accountability tests) that that resource alone, when provided at a stipulated level or amount, will necessarily guarantee (short-term) educational gains. Much of the work of the scholars in this volume clarifies distinctions between this logical and methodological difference underlying the plaintiffs claims and the states defense.

The plaintiffs claim that without fundamental resources students cannot achieve the educational goals that the state has for them. These are goals that include but are not limited to high academic achievement. The plaintiffs chief complaint, the one that most directly goes to the heart of their constitutional rights, is that Californias education system provides the basic tools of schooling to most students but neglects many others. Moreover, the states low-income children, children of color, and children still learning English are deprived of these essentials more often than other children. Many suffer the cumulative impact of attending schools plagued by multiple problems over several years. These students opportunities to realize the benefits of high-quality schooling become increasingly compromised with each passing year of their schooling until, after just a few years, the challenge to remediate or compensate for earlier denials of opportunity becomes overwhelming. The plaintiffs argue that the states current policies have created these problems, or exacerbated them, or allowed them to go unremedied.

Early in the case, Judge Busch issued an order that laid out the central issues of the states case:

The student Plaintiffs allege that they are required to try to learn under conditions that, accepting their allegations as true for purposes of the demurrer, include lack of sufficient textbooks, lack of sufficient trained teachers, and lack of adequate facilities. They further allege that other students at other schools do not suffer from these inadequacies, and that, therefore, they are denied equal protection, among other violations of law.

The State of California has taken it on itself through its Constitution, statutes, and regulations to provide universal public education and to do so on a basis that satisfies basic standards of equality, among other legal requirements. That the State has chosen to carry out certain of its obligations through local school districts does not absolve the State of its ultimate responsibility. Butt v. State of California, 4 Cal. 4th 668, 685 (1992). Plaintiffs allegations, if believed, would demonstrate that, despite the States obligations with respect to public education, these plaintiffs do not enjoy the level of educational opportunity to which they are entitled (pp. 12).3


The lawsuit is aimed at ensuring a system that will either prevent or discover and correct such deficiencies going forward. The specific deficiencies that take up so much of the Complaint are evidence of an alleged breakdown in the States management of its oversight responsibilities.

. . . this case will deal with the oversight and management systems the State has in place to determine if they are legally adequate and whether they are being properly implemented.

Of course, to carry out that inquiry, it will be necessary to know what systemic inadequacies Plaintiffs claim exist at the State level (pp. 23).

Following Judge Buschs articulation of the central issues of the case, a group of experts was retained to address them. Their reports, along with all of the documents related to the case can be found at www.decentschool.com. Collectively, the plaintiffs expert reports argue that education standards and accountability must be matched by certain fundamental elements of education. Raising achievement standards is not a reasonable intervention for improving schools and student opportunities if the standards are not accompanied by resources and structures that make it possible for students to achieve those standards. The plaintiffs experts document that qualified teachers, appropriate instructional materials, and adequate school facilities are provided to most, but not to all, students in the state, and that the states uneven distribution of these essential resources systematically disadvantages Californias low-income children of color and those still learning English. They find that flaws in the states development and implementation of specific policies have led to these disparities and allowed them to remain. The plaintiffs expert reports also point to fundamental deficiencies in how the state has conceptualized and enacted standards-based educational reform the primary flaw being the failure to recognize the states responsibility for ensuring that local schools have the capacity to educate their students. They argue that a combination of standards, capacity building, oversight and monitoring, and robust accountability can enable the state to either prevent, or discover and correct, shortages and inequalities. The expert reports draw, in part, on the research reported in the articles in this issue.


The state responded to the plaintiffs evidence with a set of reports prepared by a group of experts who defend the states current policies and practices. Chief among these experts are Eric Hanushek, Herbert Walberg, Christine Rossell, Caroline Hoxby, Anita Summers, and Margaret Raymond. The full set of these reports is also available on the Williams v. California Web site www.decentschools.com. Here, I provide a brief overview review of the themes in the states experts reports.

The states experts do not dispute the plaintiffs charge that the State of California fails to provide equal education to all California school children. They do not attempt to show that Californias current education policies are sufficient to prevent or discover and correct basic inequalities in Californias education system. Instead, the states experts attempt to prove that the state is correct in delegating these issues to local districts. Chief among the arguments is that the states system of test-based accountability goes as far that effective administration, practicality, and democratic principles allow it to go. They match this argument with frequent assertions that first, providing qualified teachers, appropriate materials, and adequate facilities is the sole responsibility of local jurisdictions, and, second, qualified teachers, appropriate materials, and adequate facilities are not proven to be necessary or useful in educating students such as the plaintiffs.

The states experts do not offer affirmative arguments that the state meets basic standards of educational equality. They do not counter the plaintiffs claim that significant numbers of students disproportionately low-income students, students of color lack basic educational resources, while most California students have those resources. In fact, the states experts rarely address equality at all. As described later, they respond to the plaintiffs by trying to reframe the case and avoiding this central issue.

Instead of focusing on whether large numbers of California students suffer from educational inequalities and whether the states management or oversight mechanisms are adequate to prevent, or discover and correct, them the states experts defend Californias current educational system on completely different grounds. They argue that Californias educational standards- and test-based accountability system is the best approach that the state could take to increase its overall educational productivity that is, realize higher overall achievement-test scores cost-effectively. They also assert that ensuring an equitable distribution of qualified teachers, instructional materials, and decent school facilities would not be a productive way to improve California schools.

The states experts arrive at this conclusion because they rely on a theory of educational improvement that considers effective and efficient production of achievement, as measured by standardized test scores, as the only education goal worth attending to and that sees the production as a function of local educators, students, and families motivation and efforts. These assumptions eschew attention to other factors, such as educational resources, the effects of which they have been unable to document with econometric models.

Arguing from this limited perspective, the states experts assert that Californias system of state tests, based on state content standards accompanied by sanctions for poor test performance, is sufficient to provide the incentives educators and students need to increase achievement. If these incentives prove insufficient, the states experts argue that local educators and/or families and communities are to blame, rather than the lack of school resources or learning conditions or anything else other than motivation. In fact, they argue that providing additional basic resources such as teachers, instructional materials, and adequate facilities or managing such resources effectively would have little or no effect on students learning. If schools enrolling similar students differ in the levels of achievement they produce, the states experts assert that the fault lies exclusively with unmotivated teachers or faulty local management, rather that with any inequality in basic resources or learning conditions. Finally, they reject the proposition that the state is ultimately responsible for ensuring that local mismanagement not abridge students educational rights. Thus they leave parents and students with no place to turn.

To mount this defense of Californias current educational system, the states experts shift the focus of Williams v. California from equality to overall educational productivity. Ignoring (or disputing) the evidence marshaled by plaintiffs experts that teachers, textbooks, and facilities matter to learning and achievement, the states experts assert that unless the plaintiffs can use the states chosen econometric methods to provide proof that teachers, instructional materials, and facilities actually cause higher overall levels of achievement as measured by test scores their concerns about shortages and inequalities are entirely misplaced.

Higher test scores can be an admirable policy goal, particularly if the scores are indicators of meaningful learning and progress toward desirable educational ends. However, invoking the primacy of test scores, the states experts dismiss the plaintiffs arguments that state policies should ensure that all students have access to the basic tools of education that provide them with a meaningful opportunity to achieve well.

Labeling the guarantee of qualified teachers, sufficient materials, and adequate facilities as advocacy for failed input policies of the past, the states expert reports argue that such policies are unnecessary, unwise, and far too costly with no evidence to back up their claims. They claim that the states attention to these issues would be potentially damaging to student achievement, professional authority, and to democratic local participation. Instead, they defend Californias narrow focus on content standards, tests, and negative consequences for poor performance as far more likely than a focus on ensuring equality of meaningful learning opportunities to raise student achievement. Mounting this argument, however, the states experts ignore a fundamental element of standards-based reform: although standards and accountability can set useful performance goals, monitor progress, and assign responsibilities, they are also meant to guide investments in schooling by aligning resources with the higher expectations. Notably, in their argument against any state policies that manage and oversee the provision of appropriate resources and opportunities, the states experts actually undercut many of the policies and values that the state itself has adopted (e.g., standards for certifying teachers, adopting textbooks, and certifying new school construction).

Finally, the states experts argue that the plaintiffs have no reasonable basis for bringing their complaint to the court, and they accuse the plaintiffs of attempting to subvert democracy by seeking to install their own policy preferences over the will of the people of California. Their logic for this highly novel interpretation is that current policies are the product of duly elected public officials; to argue with the policies is ipso facto to argue with the democratic process by which elected representatives came to office, and to redress ill-advised policies with a court decision is to overturn the popular will.


In August 2004, the state agreed to settle Williams. In contrast to Governor Davis, who fought the case, spending spent nearly $15 million dollars on high-priced private lawyers; Governor Schwarzenegger acknowledged that the plaintiffs were right. Soon after taking office in fall 2003, he asked the state attorney general to negotiate a settlement. In June 2004, he articulated the states new position:

Its terrible. It should never have happened. Every child is guaranteed to get equal education, equal quality teachers, equal textbooks, homework materials, all of this stuff ought to be equal, but it hasnt been. And this is why the State was sued. And it was crazy for the State to then go out and hire an outside firm and to fight the lawsuit. Fight what? To say this is not true what the ACLU is saying, that they actually got equal education? All anyone has to do is to just go to those schools, and Ive gone to those schools because of my after-school programs. Ive seen how inner city schools are falling behind because theyre not getting the equal teaching and the equal books, equal learning material. So, of course, we are settling that lawsuit. We are very close in settling that, and it is part of the budget negotiation, because weve got to give every child in this state equal opportunities, equal education, equal learning materials, equal books, everything equal. (Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Capitol Morning Report, June 30, 2004)

The settlement embodies every important principle of the plaintiffs case. It includes significant changes to Californias education laws, in which the state will adopt new standards and new accountability mechanisms to ensure decent schools for all students. It also provides nearly $1 billion to fix the terrible conditions that exist currently.

As good as it is, the settlement is only the first step toward a revitalized education system in California, and much remains to be done. The settlement does not include fundamental structural changes overcome the pervasive teacher recruitment and retention challenges faced by hard-to-staff schools and districts. It establishes no new statewide system for measuring and reporting the provision of opportunities for teaching and learning to permit comparison across schools and over time. And, should the resources provided under the settlement turn out to be insufficient, the settlement lacks mechanisms for correcting the basic structural flaws in Californias tax and public finance systems that underlie many of the problems that gave rise to the case.

The Williams case does not end with this settlement, however; California must transform this settlement into real and meaningful improvements for students who have been neglected. If these new measures do not solve the problems, Eliezer Williams and other students can return to court. Even if the terms of the settlement are implemented fully, however, it will take serious commitment and action by the governor, the legislature, and activist Investigating the Claims in Williams v. State of California 1897 Californians to achieve the in the learning conditions and opportunities that Eliezer Williams and millions of California students like him deserve.


The articles in this issue analyze the claims of the Williams plaintiffs. They report research examining current resources and conditions in California schools, the distribution of those resources and conditions among various groups of students, and the link between inadequacy and inequity and state level policy. They also provide analyses of alternatives for ensuring adequate and equal opportunities for all students. Collectively, the articles address the following basic questions:

● Do the conditions named in the Williams case access to teachers, instructional materials, and facilities really matter? What is the evidence that there is a relationship between these educational conditions and the educational, civic, social, and economic outcomes of schooling?

● What are the state’s statutory, regulatory, or commonly accepted obligations in this domain? Is the state meeting its own current standards? Where does the state fall short?

● Are there systematic disparities in the distribution of these resources among various groups of students?

● How have state policies, actions, and/or inaction contributed to shortfalls and disparities between what is required and what is now provided? Is the state’s current approach to accountability sufficient to oversee and manage the state system in ways that ensure basic equality?

● Is the status quo in California inevitable? What remedies might be part of a feasible court order or be made part of a broader legislative agenda?

The articles resulting from this work and included in this issues synthesize data from a wide variety of sources. Evidence about the educational importance of the resources and conditions (qualified teachers, appropriate textbooks and curriculum materials, and adequate school facilities) and the relationship between particular policy instruments and reform outcomes was derived from state, national, and international studies conducted by scholars in the field of education. Background data and facts regarding the implementation of standards-based reform in California came from documents produced by state agencies and from legislative records. Additional information about California policies and their implementation was drawn from depositions from education officials conducted by the plaintiffs attorneys. Evidence about the adequacy and equity of students access to resources and conditions in California schools and their impact came from new and existing data and analyses conducted by article authors. Finally, reports produced by schools, districts, and/or other educational and policy analysis organizations provided additional data about the conditions in California schools and their connections with state policy.

Section 1 of the issue (presented here in Volume 106, No. 10), Schools that Shock the Conscience, includes articles that focus on the plaintiffs claim that many California students lack the fundamental educational tools required by the states standards-based education system. In What Do Students Need to Meet Californias Educational Content Standards? William Koski and Hillary Weiss examine Californias educational content standards and related high-stakes accountability measures. They pose the following questions: Are higher content standards and stiffer accountability enough to ensure that all children achieve at high levels? Can we be sure that all California students and schools particularly those in low-income minority communities enjoy the necessary support, conditions, and resources to succeed? Koski and Weiss answer these questions with an analysis of Californias K12 standards and other related state policies, looking at the minimum level of resources and conditions required for students to meet the standards. Their analysis makes clear that Californias standards based reform strategy and accountability scheme require basic educational tools, including teachers with particular knowledge and skills and appropriate instructional materials and facilities. However, the states policies do not address these requirements explicitly. No standards or accountability mechanisms currently exist to ensure that all children in California have the educational conditions and resources to achieve at levels prescribed by the state. Koski and Weiss conclude that the state must analyze its curriculum frameworks and content standards systematically to create parallel standards that delineate the minimum educational resources and conditions required at each grade level for all students to have an adequate opportunity to learn the states standards.

Linda Darling-Hammonds paper, Inequality and the Right to Learn: Access to Qualified Teachers in Californias Public Schools, tackles four key issues related to the states teaching force and its distribution among various groups of students: (1) What does the state of California expect of its students and its teachers? (2) How does teacher quality matter for equal educational opportunity? (3) Do California students have equal access to qualified teachers who can offer the instruction they need to master the state standards? (4) How might the discrepancies in students access to qualified teachers be remedied, given the states policy context and knowledge about successful policy elsewhere? Drawing on a wealth of empirical studies, the article reveals the critical relationship between qualified teachers and student academic achievement. It also explains that new state standards, an increasingly diverse student population, together with the skills needed to participate in a knowledge-based society create an urgent demand for skilled and effective teachers. The article also reveals that the shortage of qualified teachers in schools predominantly serving children of color and poor students does not result from an overall lack of qualified teachers in the state. Rather, Darling-Hammond attributes this problem to a failure of state oversight to ensure that qualified teachers remain in the system and that they are equitably distributed among schools and communities. Finally, Darling-Hammonds comparison of California policies with those in other states lays the groundwork for new state policies that would support more equitable access to quality teachers.

In Educations Most Basic Tools: Access to Textbooks and Instructional Materials in Californias Public Schools, Marisa Saunders and I explore four questions: (1) Are textbooks and curriculum materials essential to students education in California? (2) Do all students have access to these resources? (3) Has the state failed to correct (or has it contributed to) gaps or inequalities in access to instructional materials? (4) Are there policies the state could follow that would lead to better access? Drawing both on empirical research and the analysis of current state policy, we conclude that textbooks and instructional materials are fundamentally important to students education, and many California students do not have access to them. We find that the problem of inadequate instructional materials converges with problems in staffing and facilities in predictable patterns. Schools serving low-income students, English language learners, and/or non-White student majorities are most plagued by inadequacies in instructional materials. Furthermore, by not mandating that students be provided with instructional materials, and by not investigating their availability through existing oversight mechanisms, the state contributes to shortages and disparities in access. An analysis of other states policies shows that the state could take measures that would ensure students access to sufficient and appropriate textbooks and instructional materials.

Doug Ready, Valerie Lee, and Kevin Welner address concerns about school size and organization in their paper, Educational Equity and School Structure: School Size, Overcrowding, and Schools-Within-Schools. Ready, Lee, and Welner provide an interpretive summary of existing studies, concentrating on how these structural issues relate to social stratification in student outcomes, particularly academic achievement. They draw evidence from both national studies and research that discusses the effects of school structure in Californias schools. They use this evidence to define which size high schools are best for all students (under 1,000 students), which responses to school overcrowding are appropriate (building more schools rather than adding portable classrooms or multi-track year round schooling), how magnet schools can decrease rather than increase inequality (by making regular public schools more like magnet schools), and how creating smaller learning communities in high schools can work well for everyone (by not allowing this mechanism to increase stratification). They also show that California policies have not promoted these responses and may have exacerbated inequality in educational outcomes by race, ethnicity, and class.

In Essential Learning Conditions for California Youth: Educational Facilities, Flora Ida Ortiz begins with research showing that safe, healthy, and uncrowded school facilities are a basic ingredient of a good educational program. When teachers work in well designed and highly functional school buildings, they are able to be more effective than when they must teach in inadequate facilities. Ortiz sets these findings against the evidence that a high proportion of Californias educational facilities are inadequate because they are crowded, old, and in need of repair and modernization. She finds that increased enrollment in the state due to demographic changes and class size reduction, an average age of the states school buildings of over 25 years, and the high cost of facilities have all contributed to the current inadequacies. However, the states responses to the many problems with educational facilities have been severely limited by flaws in policies establishing the states relationships with local districts with regard to funding, inventory, and oversight of educational facilities. The state has failed to establish a system of state financing to ensure that funds are available to and used by districts with schools in the poorest conditions. It has failed to promulgate minimum standards for school facility conditions and maintenance, develop systematic ways of monitoring conditions in schools throughout the state, or maintain effective investigation and correction processes when serious deficiencies are reported.

The last article in this section is The Inequitable Treatment of English Learners in California Public Schools by Russell Rumberger and Patricia Gandara. Rumberger and Gandara investigate the extent to which Californias English learners one fourth of the states public school population have access to the teachers, instructional materials, and facilities that will enable them to succeed in an English-only, standards-based policy system in which they must learn and compete for grade-to-grade promotion and high school graduation alongside (and on the same terms as) their English-speaking peers. Gandara and Rumberger conclude that that these students receive a substantially inequitable education vis-a-vis their English speaking peers, even when those peers are similarly economically disadvantaged. They demonstrate that California has failed in its duty to guarantee that English-learning students have the teachers, the curriculum, the instruction, the assessment, and the support services they need to access the same academic content as native English speaking students. When the state has become aware of specific substandard learning conditions for English learners, it has failed to act effectively to correct these problems. Additionally, with an ill-planned class-size reduction program and the poorly articulated implementation of Proposition 227, the state has worsened the learning conditions for these students.

Sections 2 and 3 are presented in Volume 106, No. 11. The articles in Section 2, State Structures of Inadequacy and Inequality, consider whether and how the states policy and administration system is adequate to realize the states obligation to ensure education on equal terms to all Californias students. In School Governance and Oversight in California: Shaping the Landscape of Equity and Adequacy, Thomas Timar examines the institutional framework for Californias educational governance from historical and contemporary perspectives. He shows that, although the court has affirmed the states responsibility for the quality of educational services in schools, the state has delegated to schools the responsibility for delivery of educational services. The conditions alleged in the Williams case raise concerns about the capacity of this governance structure to provide Californias students with an adequate and equal education. Consequently, the question that frames this study is whether state structures and policies support or constrain schools capacity to deliver an adequate and equal education. The article addresses the following questions: Who is responsible for ensuring that schools have adequate resources? What means are available to determine if schools curriculum, personnel, facilities, and instructional materials are inadequate? What means exist for determining if a school is performing satisfactorily? What means exist for remedying deficiencies in schools? The authors implicate the irrationality, incoherence, and limited efficacy of Californias increasingly state-controlled system of governance in the substandard conditions in many California schools.

W. Norton Grubb, Laura Goe, and Luis Huerta examine Californias funding policies through the lenses of established approaches to school finance and the new school finance perspective in their article The Unending Search for Equity: California Policy, the Improved School Finance, and the Williams Case. They draw on historical evidence, empirical research on school funding, and analyses of policies in other states. They find that while California has made some progress in equalizing funding across districts (largely through litigation and legislation), significant disparities remain. Additionally, the states use of categorical funding reduces flexibility and creates a finance system unresponsive to particular school needs. The states funding decisions are often uncoordinated; they are usually made in isolation from other policy decisions and without regard to instructional conditions in classrooms. Consequently, funding policy changes meant to bring improvement are often undermined by school conditions that are not taken into account. In contrast, Grubb, Goe, and Huerta argue that California should adopt a new school finance perspective that allows educators and policy makers to determine effective practices and resources at the local level. Funds can then be allotted to these policy instruments according to their effectiveness. The Williams case offers an important opportunity to reconceptualize these questions since its focus of attention is the level of educational opportunities actually experienced by students.

The article by Michael Russell, Jennifer Higgins, and Stacey Raczek, Accountability, California Style: Counting or Accounting? examines the extent to which Californias test-based policies promote and/or inhibit California students access to basic learning resources and conditions. Russell, Higgins, and Raczek review the history of Californias assessment systems and describe the current Academic Performance Index (API), analyze recent survey data on the impact of testing, consider the experiences of other states, and simulate results under an alternative design for accountability in California. They find that Californias accountability system has numerous technical shortcomings that prevent it from being a valid and useful indicator for either holding schools accountable for student learning or determining which schools are low performing and warrant state intervention. The system sets a target for schools that far exceeds national averages in student performance. The standardized test on which the API rankings are based is not aligned to state standards; in addition, problems in calculating accountability rankings from results on the test make the rankings poor expressions of student achievement. However, the authors also conclude that even if the technical shortcomings were fixed and/or expectations for schools were more easily accomplished, Californias single-minded focus on student outcomes as measured by standardized tests fails to adequately prevent, detect, or correct gross disparities in education. A system that focuses solely on student learning outcomes, no matter how broadly defined, cannot provide schools and their constituents with information that allows them to identify why students succeed or fail to succeed. Furthermore, reliance on standardized testing tends to result in a narrowing of curriculum and instructional strategies. Evidence from other states shows that more successful accountability systems are possible. Russell and his colleagues conclude that an improved accountability system in California should include an emphasis on educational inputs, the use of better and more varied output measures, and a sensitivity to local contexts.

In State Policies Aimed at Improving Underperforming Schools, Heinrich Mintrop also focuses on the California accountability system. He concludes that California lacks standards for adequate school operations, systematic mechanisms to detect performance barriers, and sufficient provision of support and intervention. Mintrop examines the degree to which the states oversight mechanisms ensure that students in the states lowest-performing schools have basic educational opportunities equal to those in other schools. He finds that California lacks standards of adequacy that schools can use to evaluate themselves or that the state can use to evaluate statewide adequacy levels. The states accountability system defines standards of student and school performance with the help of the academic performance index (API). However, the state lacks mechanisms to identify performance barriers and thus can offer only a single dimension of school-adequacy analysis: a ranking of averaged test score outcomes. In other words, the state offers no useful information for identifying performance barriers that occur systematically across those schools that do not meet adequate performance standards, as defined by API growth targets. By ignoring systemic performance barriers that result from and could be altered by district (and state) policies, the state has no way of knowing what statewide policies and local interventions are needed to move under performing schools to adequate performance levels. Mintrop finds that that large numbers of low-performing schools that qualify for the states intervention are not reached by the program designed to provide oversight or support to these schools, and he finds little evidence that the state has developed effective intervention systems for a sizable number of schools and districts that have not reached the states performance criteria.

In the final article in this section, Racial Isolation, Poverty and the Limits of Local Control in Oakland, Pedro Noguera draws on research conducted in Oakland, California, over a 20-year period. He looks at how poverty and racial isolation have contributed to the problems confronted by schools in that district and other inner-city communities around the state. He illuminates the factors that hinder the development of social capital in low-income communities and, in doing so, demonstrates why local control does not make it easier for school systems to address the academic needs of poor students. Different communities vary widely in their ability to generate revenue and other support for schools, creating inequalities in learning conditions and opportunities. The states approach to local control makes it possible for advantaged parents and communities to monitor conditions in their schools, while similar capacity to hold schools accountable is lacking in high poverty areas. Noguera concludes that to improve reform efforts and policy implementation, the state must enact measures to mitigate the effects of poverty and racial isolation. Rather than presuming that all schools can be treated the same, the state must develop strategies to build the social capital of parents and cultivate the civic capacity of communities in low-income areas. Without such measures, local control will remain little more than a guise through which the state can shirk its responsibility for insuring that all students have access to quality education.

The articles in Section 3, Broken Promises? consider the impact of Californias educational problems on communities, families, and students. In Creating a Public Accountability for California Schools, John Rogers explores the role of ordinary citizens and local school boards in preventing or detecting and thus helping to correct substandard conditions in Californias schools. Californias elaborate school accountability system designed ultimately to improve test scores makes substantial references to parent participation. Rogers takes a close look at the states commitment to and practice of engaging parents in its accountability system. Rogerss offers a four-part analysis. He first considers the meaning of parent involvement in educational accountability, focusing on the role of parents in accessing, contributing to, and acting upon information about students opportunity to learn and school quality. Second, Rogers draws on a wide array of state policies on parent involvement in public school accountability and school improvement to lay out a comprehensive overview of the states commitment to parent participation in educational accountability. Third, he uses empirical evidence from two case studies to assess whether parents actually have the opportunities that Californias framework claims to provide. Fourth, building upon the states own vision of parent participation in accountability, Rogers suggests criteria for an educational accountability system that allows parents to play a meaningful role in ensuring safe and quality learning conditions for all students.

Michelle Fine, April Burns, Yasser Payne, and Maria Torre examine in Civics Lessons: The Color and Class of Betrayal how facilities problems, exposure to high levels of under-credentialed teachers, substantial teacher turnover, and inadequate books and materials produce adverse psychological and academic effects on children and adolescents attending schools with these characteristics. Using multiple methods of data collection across a diverse sample of elementary, middle school, high school, and college youth, Fine uses the voices of students to expose the adverse consequences of substandard schooling. She reveals that schools are not neutral institutions through which students pass without being affected. Indeed, the conditions in the schools that are the subject of Williams have psychological, academic, and ultimately economic consequences that substantially worsen already existing social inequities. The evidence suggests that the more years poor and working class children spend in substandard schools, the more shame, anger, and mistrust they develop, and the more their engagement declines. Fine concludes that these schools are educating low-income youth and youth of color away from academic mastery and democracy and toward academic ignorance and civic alienation.

Finally, in Opportunity at the Crossroads: Race/Ethnicity, School Segregation and Disparate Opportunities for Higher Education in California, Robert Teranishi, Walter Allen, and Daniel Solorzano address the achievement disparities in California schools. Specifically, they examine the persistent under representation of African American and Chicano/Latino high school graduates among students qualified for admission to Californias public, baccalaureate degree-granting institutions. They also investigate the small numbers of individuals from these two race/ethnic groups who eventually graduate with college degrees. Their findings reveal how inequities in educational resources across racially segregated elementary and secondary schools may account for differences in educational achievement and college access. They sum up their findings as a process by which the many is reduced to a few on the path leading from the earliest years of schooling to college graduation.

The author wishes to thank our colleagues who served as consulting reviewers for this issue. Their thoughtful comments and suggestions have enriched our work considerably. They include Jean Anyon, David Berliner, James Cilbulka, Alfonso de Guzman, Richard Duran, Adam Gamoran, Helen Ladd, Martin Lipton, Hanny Mawhinney, Cecil Miskel, Janelle Scott, Gary Sykes, and Angela Valenzuela. We also thank UCLA doctoral students Myisha Wilcher Roberts, Jamy Stillman, and Noah Delivossoy, who provided wonderful support for the research and writing. Finally, we acknowledge the Rockefeller Foundations generous support of this work.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 10, 2004, p. 1889-1906
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11675, Date Accessed: 1/17/2022 2:31:10 PM

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About the Author
  • Jeannie Oakes
    University of California
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    JEANNIE OAKES is Presidential Professor in Educational Equity and Director of UCLA’s Institute for Democracy, Education & Access (IDEA).
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