Crescendo Schools' Charter Revoked After Cheating Scandal

The Los Angeles Unified School District has chosen to not renew contracts with a group of charter schools that have been implicated in a cheating scandal, reports KTLA.

The students of at least two of the six Crescendo schools, located in South L.A., will have to find new schools for next year. The four other schools' contracts are still up for renewal, but will likely be revoked.

The surprising decision came on Tuesday, only a month after school officials had indicated that they would keep the schools open.

The scandal came to light in late February, when it was alleged that Crescendo's founder and former executive director, John Allen, had ordered principals and teachers to illegally share standardized test material with students. FOX 11 News reports that Allen told educators to break the seal on the tests and use the questions to prepare students, thus giving them an unfair and unethical preview of the test material.

An earlier FOX 11 News report reveals that about 70 teachers reported this practice to the school board. They secretly worked with investigators for months to uncover the illegal policy. Teacher Lisa Sims told FOX 11 that they "knew they had to report it. There was never a doubt." Still, the process was "nerve-wracking," in the words of teacher Patricia Hardison.

When the accusations initially arose, the Crescendo board only demoted Allen, according to the Los Angeles Times. Then, after a wave of bad publicity, he was fired, and the city's board of education voted to shut down the schools. Meanwhile, the California Department of Education invalidated the Crescendo students' 2010 scores and the Crescendo board threatened to sue the city in order to stay open, reports Fox 11 News. While the charter group did not take legal action, the schools remained open during the lengthy administrative process required by state law to shut down a school.

The decision to finally close the schools is because one principal involved in the cheating scandal was hired by Celerity, an outside organization that was brought in to manage the Crescendo schools. This was revealed at a Los Angeles Board of Education meeting that the Los Angeles Times reported on. The hiring happened despite an offical ruling that no former Crescendo principals could work for Crescendo or Celerity. School Superintendent John Deasy concluded that the charter group "directly lied to" the city board.

Charter schools in California are publicly funded but independently run, thus relieving them of many regulations. While more individual direction often benefits students, charter schools can constitute a risk of precious public resources. They generally operate on five-year contracts that hinge on the completion of certain goals like test scores. The Crescendo schools are some of the first Los Angeles charter schools to not have their contracts renewed for academic wrongdoing.

While hopefully the district's decision will serve as a stern warning for charter schools that try to take advantage of the contract system, it is clear that the cheating problem is painfully widespread. Schools from Atlanta to Bucharest, Romania have recently been revealed to allegedly condone systematic cheating.