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Fall 2000
The Slum Buster
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As Blasi writes in the report, "We did not expect to find appalling conditions in schools across the state, in small towns and rural areas as well as in big, urban areas. We did not expect to find students across the state trying to learn in what can only be described as slum conditions." But that precisely is what they did find.

Perhaps even more disturbing is this: While children are being pressured to meet rigorous academic standards or risk failure, the schools they attend often meet only the barest of standards themselves. There is no regulation, for example, that every child must have a textbook for his or her own use. Yet there is such a provision for barbers and cosmetologists during their training.

Even when there are standards, there is no system to enforce them. All that exists, Blasi asserts, is a sprawling, unresponsive bureaucracy. "What we found was a patchwork of rules and regulations, a patchwork comprised almost entirely of holes," the report says. "As a matter of California Constitutional law, it is clear that it is state officials who are ultimately accountable for public education. But in the daily life of our schools, there is another answer to the question of who is ultimately accountable: no one."

The study has had stunning reverberations, drawing national media attention. The unprecedented investigation has also been fodder for a class-action lawsuit, Williams v. State of California, believed to be the most sweeping of its kind. Brought on behalf of 23,000 parents and students, the landmark suit charges that California is violating its constitutional guarantee of an equal public education and demands that the state provide students with the basic necessities of an education. It also demands that a real system of enforcement be put in place.

"Their report is really the most comprehensive examination of the failure of the State of California to be accountable for the abysmal state of public schools," says Mark Rosenbaum, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California which, along with other civil rights groups, filed the suit. "I can't imagine a judge reading that report and not concluding that something ought to be done immediately."

Blasi is amazed at the response the study has triggered, the tapping of some raw public nerve. "In fact," he says, "I wondered whether it would get any attention at all."

"Some of my teachers do not even try to teach. We frequently are shown Hollywood movies during our regular class. I have seen A Nightmare on Elm Street, Scream and lots of other movies."

- Jesse, 8th grader, Los Angeles

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