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LA Unified to dissolve 6 charter schools following cheating by administrators

L.A. Unified will dissolve six public schools operated by Crescendo Schools after administrators and teachers, following the instruction of Crescendo founder and executive director John Allen, were caught cheating on state exams.
L.A. Unified will dissolve six public schools operated by Crescendo Schools after administrators and teachers, following the instruction of Crescendo founder and executive director John Allen, were caught cheating on state exams.
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At its regular meeting Tuesday, L.A. Unified’s school board made several key decisions, including the revocation of six public school charters.

The school board’s agenda included 17 charter school-related items. The board approved a charter petition by academic-powerhouse El Camino Real High in Woodland Hills. In recent years other high-performing district schools, including Palisades High and Granada Hills High, have split from the district so they could better control their money.

There are 183 charter schools operating within L.A. Unified’s jurisdiction. The renewal of two charter campuses in Gardena and Hawthorne generated strong debate among board members about the district’s ability to hold accountable charters that go astray.

Those two charters, and four others run by the Crescendo charter company, were involved in large-scale cheating last year on state standardized tests. Lakisha Johnson, principal of Crescendo Charter Conservatory in Hawthorne, told the school board that her administration has fixed the lapse.

"All of our staff did participate in an ethics training this year, as well as training to help, to make sure that everyone was on the same page with the testing guidelines and procedures. I can confidently assure you that there is and will continue to be a high quality testing environment with integrity and fidelity," Johnson said.

That’s not enough, board member Tamar Galatzan said, because the charter company had demoted but not fired the person responsible for orchestrating the cheating - Crescendo founder John Allen.

"I think we’ve been doing a good job at it over the last few years, when it comes to our attention that district employees or charter employees, the ones we have some control over, we’ve taken out of the classroom, we’ve taken out of the school, we’ve done what we’re supposed to do," said Galatzan. "But here’s a board, they’re their own board and they basically said, 'No,' and returned someone with allegations of feeding test questions to students, to the classroom and that’s just not acceptable."

Staff in L.A. Unified’s charter schools division had recommended renewing the two Crescendo charters. A California Charter Schools Association spoke in support of that recommendation. Incoming Superintendent John Deasy proposed a temporary renewal pending an investigation into who’d been fired.

Board member Galatzan said the Crescendo board’s actions didn’t address the ethical lapse. All but one of her colleagues agreed and approved her motion to begin the revocation process for all six Crescendo charters. Board member Marguerite LaMotte said she favored Deasy's move to investigate the matter and voted against Galatzan's motion.

"I hope that this board will do what's best for kids and not politicize this movement," LaMotte said.

Most of the Crescendo schools are in her board district. Crescendo officials were not available for comment and they haven’t spoken publicly about the accusations.

The action is the most significant the L.A. Unified board has taken against a large charter school operator within its boundaries. Now, the district will begin to dissolve the Crescendo schools and find replacement campuses for more than 1,000 students.