BERKELEY -- Alameda County and public schools statewide that serve poor children have much better facilities, more textbooks and more appropriately qualified teachers than they did seven years ago, according to a study released this week by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The study highlights "significant progress" made since the 2004 settlement of Williams v. California, the lawsuit the ACLU and others brought on behalf of children lacking access to basic resources for learning. The report by the ACLU of Southern California concludes: "The evidence is clear: Williams is working."
Locally, conditions have improved dramatically in schools serving underprivileged youth. Although all schools must comply with the Williams settlement, only schools that score in the bottom 30 percent on state tests -- which generally correspond with schools in pockets of poverty -- are monitored by their county offices of education.
In Alameda County, schools made huge gains in having sufficient textbooks and materials, in facility cleanliness and repair such as bathrooms and classrooms, and in having teachers appropriately assigned to teach classes that match their training.
For example, in 2005, 70 percent of schools monitored had deficiencies in textbook availability or quality. In 2012-13, there were problems in just 1 percent of schools monitored in the Oakland, Hayward, San Leandro, San Lorenzo, New Haven, Newark and Fremont school districts, according to the Alameda County Office of Education. In 2005, 94 percent of schools monitored had urgent deficiencies in facilities; none have been reported this year.
The most common facility problems in Alameda County found in 2013 were burned out lights, missing ceiling tiles and unclean sinks or drinking fountains. When the suit first was settled, problems at school bathrooms in Alameda County were much more severe, like toilet stalls with no doors, said Teresa Kapellas, who oversees Williams Settlement issues in the Alameda County education office.
And in 2005, 79 percent of schools had problems with teachers being assigned to inappropriate classes, while the number was down to 31 percent in 2012, the latest year figures were available in that category.
"In talking to our auditors, there have been incredible improvements from when they first started," said Kapellas. "The settlement absolutely has benefited students in the long run."
In Santa Clara County two years ago -- the most recent data examined -- 1 percent of classrooms lacked appropriate textbooks, compared with 10 percent in 2005.
In the same year, 10 percent had deficiencies in facilities, down from 48 percent in 2005. Monitors check heating systems, windows, pest infestation, restrooms, hazardous materials and several other areas.
In San Mateo County two years ago, 2 percent of classrooms in 26 monitored schools had insufficient textbooks and instructional materials -- and for the first time since monitoring began, the Ravenswood City School District in East Palo Alto had no deficiencies in materials. In the Bayshore Elementary District less than 4 percent of teachers at the low-performing schools were not teaching appropriate classes.
"Districts have gotten clear about what every child should have," said Mefula Fairley of the San Mateo County Office of Education, "and gotten better at ensuring those materials are in place from the first day of school."
The Williams suit "has had real payoffs," said Don Bolce who oversees compliance by 51 schools in 12 school districts for the Santa Clara County Office of Education.
"These are areas districts wanted to address," he said. "The Williams settlement just called attention to them."
Statewide, the ACLU found similar progress. In 2005-06, 29 percent of teachers in California's low-performing schools were teaching inappropriate classes. Five years later, that figure dropped to 13 percent.
Campuses are cleaner, safer and more functional. The percentage of schools with conditions that pose a threat to health or safety dropped by two-thirds, to 4 percent. Similarly, 5 percent of schools lacked textbooks and instructional materials, compared with 19 percent in 2004-05, the ACLU reported.
The Williams settlement also created a way to register complaints about districts' facilities, materials or teacher qualification.
Despite the progress, the report warned of an "impending crisis." During successive years of budget cuts, schools reduced maintenance and staff, and are accumulating a backlog of unattended repairs. As a result, the report noted, county offices of education see a looming crisis.
Contact Sharon Noguchi at 408-271-3775. Follow her at Twitter.com/NoguchiOnK12.