Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools David W. Gordon today led an inspection tour of a Sacramento-area school to kick off a new program aimed at ensuring students have sufficient books and materials, qualified teachers, and clean, well-maintained schools.
Joining Superintendent Gordon on his inspection tour of Jedediah Smith Elementary School were area school district superintendents, legislators, education leaders, media representatives, and a representative from the American Civil Liberties Union. The visitors joined specially trained Sacramento County Office of Education (SCOE) teams in entering classrooms to confirm the availability of textbooks, and in touring the campus to inspect the conditions of buildings and grounds. Superintendent Gordon stated, "Because of this new inspection requirement and the funding provided through the legislation, we have increased our capacity to give our local districts the support they need to improve the performance of the students in the Williams schools. All of these efforts combine to help us help districts turn around those schools most in need of improvement."
The inspection program, led locally by Superintendent Gordon, is being implemented throughout the state in response to Williams v. California, a lawsuit filed five years ago on behalf of students who believed their schools lacked appropriately credentialed teachers, sufficient instructional materials, and facilities that were clean and functional. In agreement with the plaintiffs, the ACLU and other public interest law firms, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the Williams settlement in August 2004, putting into motion a statewide effort aimed at ensuring that school children have sufficient textbooks, clean and functional learning environments, and qualified teachers. Subsequent state legislation passed in fall 2004 allocated approximately $800 million for emergency school repairs, $138 million for textbooks and supplies, and $50 million for oversight of low-performing schools.
Superintendent Gordon applauded Governor Schwarzenegger for focusing attention and resources on these low-performing schools. But, he stressed, "Counting textbooks doesn't improve student achievement — which, after all, is why we are here." He stated that the Sacramento County Office of Education "is taking this new opportunity very seriously to partner and work collaboratively with districts that have low-performing schools in a way that goes far beyond simply counting inputs."
Superintendent Gordon and the SCOE school inspection team were welcomed by Sacramento City Unified School District Superintendent M. Magdalena Carrillo Mejia. Among those who accompanied Superintendents Gordon and Mejia on the campus inspection tour were California State Assemblyman Dave Jones, Rio Linda Union School District Superintendent Frank S. Porter, and Brooks Allen, staff attorney of the ACLU Foundation of Southern California.
In March, April and May 2005, SCOE review teams will visit 71 area schools to help ensure students have access to textbooks, safe and clean learning environments, and are receiving instruction from appropriately credentialed teachers. Jedediah Smith Elementary School is among the schools being visited in the first week of SCOE's visitations, which started March 14, 2005. Districts have supplied information about the areas of review — textbook adoptions, student enrollment and teacher qualifications — that will aid SCOE in assessing the districts' compliance with Williams. The legislation also requires school districts to post notices in all classrooms that explain how parents or others may submit concerns about textbooks, teacher credentialing and facilities related to the Williams legislation.
To prepare school districts for inspections, SCOE held several comprehensive trainings for administrators in January and February. A series of pilot visits at local school sites was also conducted by SCOE in February 2005 to help refine the inspection and review process.
When deficiencies are discovered in Sacramento County, SCOE will work with the school districts to resolve any problems that are found and identify areas in which they can help them improve instruction. Some state funds are available to districts for facilities repair. The county superintendent may request the state superintendent to purchase textbooks when a district fails to buy the necessary textbooks. The cost of the textbooks is considered a loan to the district.
Specific areas being examined in Sacramento County and throughout the state during the Williams school reviews include:
Textbooks in four core subjects: reading/language arts, social science, science and math
- Must be current and aligned to state content standards and frameworks
- Number of textbooks should match number of students enrolled
- Teachers must be credentialed
- Teachers must be credentialed for the subjects they are teaching
- Classrooms and grounds must be safe, clean and functional
Schools under review are those defined by the California Department of Education as "decile 1-3" — those ranking in the lowest third of California schools with regard to student achievement (2003 API). In Sacramento County, 71 schools in 11 districts have been designated as Williams schools subject to Williams inspections by SCOE review teams. Seventy-five percent of the visits will be scheduled; the remainder will be unannounced. Visits are slated to conclude in May 2005.
Stated Superintendent Gordon, "This new work complements what we are already doing with our districts and schools. Right now we are actively training teachers to use the textbooks effectively for all children. We also provide intervention teams partnering with schools and districts to improve student achievement in low-performing schools."
He concluded, "Today we are making sure that the building blocks for success are here: for the students and for the teachers. Textbooks, clean and functional facilities, and prepared teachers — that is simply where we are starting; it is only our beginning in the effort to improve instruction and ensure that all our young people become high performers."