The Los Angeles Unified School District has rightly been raising the bar for its public schools. Now it needs to do the same for its charter schools.
For years, the district has been reluctant to close problematic charters, even when the California Charter Schools Assn., an organization that promotes the publicly funded but independently run schools, has recommended doing so. On Tuesday, the school board will be faced with a clear case: Crescendo Schools, whose six campuses in L.A. Unified engaged in rampant cheating on the yearly state standardized tests. The cheating was ordered by founder and then-Executive Director John Allen, promulgated by principals and carried out by teachers, except for a few brave ones who blew the whistle. Under a mandate from the top, teachers broke open the seals on the tests and used the questions to prep students.
Charter schools generally operate on five-year contracts under which they agree to be held accountable for whether they reach ambitious goals, in exchange for freedom from many regulations. At the end of the five years, their progress is assessed before they are given another five-year contract. The school board will consider the extension for two Crescendo schools Tuesday.
Crescendo at first denied and then downplayed its illegal behavior. It never fired any of the people involved, though it did move Allen to another position. And now district staff proposes renewing the schools' contracts for five years because Crescendo reshuffled its governing board and instituted new ethics training for the staff. On Monday, after The Times reported on this situation, Deputy Supt. John Deasy proposed amending that to year-by-year renewal. Neither is acceptable. Exactly how low does a school have to go to be closed by L.A. Unified?
If the board reauthorizes Crescendo's contract, as well as renewing agreements with charter schools that have not appreciably improved test scores or other educational outcomes, not only is it reneging on the most elementary concept of accountability, but it is sending a terrible message to other charter schools about the standard to which they are held: There are no real consequences as long as you promise not to mess up anymore. Bad charters aren't good for students, or for the reputation of the many charters that do an outstanding job.