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March 30, 2022 - MoFo Pro Bono

MoFo Case Sparks Advances in Literacy

A MoFo pro bono case settled in early 2020 is proving its value, as children in California are gaining basic literacy skills as a direct result of new funding made possible by the settlement.

An article published by EdSource, a California nonprofit that provides education news, research, and other materials to educators and the public, focuses on reading gains made at Nystrom Elementary in Richmond, one of the 75 schools targeted by the settlement to receive $50 million in new literacy funding. (Recipient schools were those with the lowest average reading scores for third graders.) The settlement funds literacy coaches, teacher’s aides, training for teachers and reading material that reflects the cultural makeup of the student population.

According to the literacy coach at Nystrom Elementary, a fall 2021 assessment showed that 61% of its students lacked reading skills expected for their grade level. The settlement funds have enabled the school to implement a new reading curriculum, and already by mid-year, “oral reading fluency has shot up,” the coach reports. “[The students] are much more accurate and fluent in their reading, and that allows them to have the brain space to comprehend what they’re reading.” The literacy coach, who works with teachers to implement the new curriculum, emphasized the lasting impact of the teachers’ work: “These teachers [have] actually shifted their [students’] trajectory of achievement by getting them caught up” in reading.

MoFo filed Ella T. v. the State of California in late 2017, working with the public interest organization Public Counsel. The theory of the case was that the state constitution’s guarantee of a basic education establishes a right to literacy that was being violated by failing to equip children in low-performing schools with basic literacy skills. After surviving a motion to dismiss, the case was resolved with a settlement creating $50 million in literacy block grants for the lowest-performing schools, as well as funds for a statewide literacy office and related programs.

Michael Jacobs, the San Francisco partner who led MoFo’s case team along with Palo Alto partners Erik Olson and Roman Swoopes, said, “Results like those being seen at Nystrom school are exactly what we hoped to achieve by bringing the Ella T. case. It is gratifying to learn about the impact of our lawsuit in bringing critical literacy education to children who might otherwise be left behind because their schools lacked the resources to meet their most fundamental educational needs.”