Frequently Asked Questions

1. What do you want to get from this law suit? We are asking the State of Michigan to give Detroit children access to literacy by (1) ensuring that they are provided with evidence-based, grade-appropriate programs for literacy instruction and intervention, and (2) monitoring conditions that deny students access to literacy such as lack of teachers and deplorable school conditions.

2. What is literacy? Literacy is the ability to encode and decode language so as to use language to engage with the world—to understand, synthesize, analyze, reflect, and critique.

3. Is literacy is the same thing as education? Literacy is the basic building block of all education. Access to literacy is our society’s essential precondition for social mobility and participation in higher education, the workforce, and the activities of democratic citizenship. Literacy is what permits a student to access knowledge and communicate with the world. Without literacy, students cannot access any subjects, not only the humanities: students cannot take a math test with word problems or read the instructions for their chemistry experiment.

4. Shouldn’t kids know how to read by third grade? Of course. School-based literacy instruction must begin in Kindergarten, and students in the early grades make critical steps in developing their literacy skills. But literacy instruction cannot end there. The basic literacy skills developed in the early grades do not automatically evolve into higher-level literacy skills necessary for middle school, high school, and beyond. Adolescents need to receive direct and explicit instruction in developing strategies of comprehension, fluency, vocabulary development, and word study, and they need to be motivated to engage with reading by having access to interesting, relevant texts and reading-related social interactions.

5. Why are you suing the State instead of the schools or the school district? It is the State’s responsibility to ensure that all children in Michigan have equal access to education. The State is ultimately responsible for complying with the United States Constitution as well as the constitution of Michigan. In addition, the State of Michigan has run the Detroit school district for most of the past 15 years.

6. Doesn’t Detroit have enough problems without another lawsuit? This lawsuit should not be necessary, and our hope is that it will be resolved right away. But Governor Snyder and other state officials have treated the education of Detroit schoolchildren with disinvestment and deliberate indifference, making decisions based on political expediency instead of education imperatives.

Detroit students have no more time to lose. Every day, week, month, or year of education that they miss harms their future educational and career prospects and contributes to the feeling of being a second-class citizen. The problem is not the lawsuit but the conditions affecting students that made the lawsuit necessary.

7. Who is going to pay for all of this? As a matter of dollars and cents, the cost of investing in children by providing them the opportunity to attain literacy is far less expensive than the cost to the children’s futures, the families, their communities, and ultimately, the State of Michigan. The worst investment the state can make is the denial of access to literacy. The economic future of Detroit depends on those children becoming educated, productive members of the workforce and full participants in the city’s democratic processes. In addition, the State must ensure that Detroit schools have the resources they need to provide access to literacy to all children.

8. Are you asking the Court to tell the schools how to teach literacy? No. We are asking the Court to order the State to ensure that schools use evidence-based practices to teach literacy. Numerous literacy interventions have been proven to be effective and are collected in the federal Department of Education’s “What Works Clearinghouse.”

9. Whose fault is this? The State of Michigan has shown deliberate indifference to some of its children of color by failing to ensure that their schools give them equal access to literacy as other children in the State. Detroit teachers have heroically done the best they could do with inadequate resources and under deplorable conditions, often spending thousands of dollars of their own meager salaries to fill the gaps and provide basic necessities for the classroom. Detroit students, families, and community organizations have also made extraordinary efforts to provide Detroit children with access to literacy.

10. Where does it say in the Constitution that young people have a right to access literacy? The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees equal protection of the law and also protects our fundamental rights. The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the exclusion of a discrete group of children from the ability to attain literacy necessary to participate in college, career, and as citizens in our democracy is incompatible with the guarantees of liberty and equality enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The 1982 case held that all children are entitled to a basic education, one not carrying with it the “stigma of illiteracy.” In 1973, the Supreme Court also acknowledged that an absolute denial of basic education raises serious constitutional issues. Thus, while this is the first federal civil rights action seeking recognition of a fundamental right of access to literacy, it is well-grounded in decades of Supreme Court precedent.

11. Your law firms are from Los Angeles and Chicago. Why are you bringing a case in Detroit? The legal team is working closely with students, families, teachers and community groups that have led the struggle for decent schools in Detroit. In addition, members of the legal team have deep and longstanding ties to Michigan. Mark Rosenbaum attended the University of Michigan, taught in the law school there for over two decades, sent his children to college there, and has led or played a key role in numerous key education cases in the state, including the affirmative action case Schuette v. Coalition to End Affirmative Action, which went to the Supreme Court. Evan Caminker is a Michigan resident and was the dean of the University of Michigan School of Law from 2003 to 2013. Bruce Miller is Detroit-based labor and civil rights attorney and a longstanding member of the Detroit community.

12. How is this lawsuit different from the Connecticut case? Will the judge’s recent decision in that case impact this case? Judge Moukawsher’s important decision in Connecticut Coalition for Justice in Education Funding, Inc., et al. v. Rell does not affect this case directly. That case concerned the right to education under the Connecticut constitution and is limited to Connecticut state law. This case concerns the rights of Michigan students under the United States Constitution.

13. How is this lawsuit different from AFT v. DPS (the case on school conditions)? This case is related to the AFT v. DPS case and concerns some of the same facts, but is different because it concerns primarily the right to literacy. This case contends that the deplorable school conditions prevent students from accessing the right to literacy because under such conditions, no or little learning or teaching can take place.

14. It has been asserted that books are no longer necessary for K-12 education. You seek to make a big point from the fact that schools in Detroit don’t have books. So what? Physical books might not be as necessary if Plaintiffs’ schools had enough up-to-date technology for computer-based learning, and if the State ensured that all students had access to the technology and Internet connection that they would need at home in order to do their homework.  Unfortunately, Plaintiffs’ schools lack even the most basic technology, much less up-to-date computer-based learning technology, and many students do not have the technological capacities at home to do electronic or online reading as part of their homework.