Sunday, March 06, 2011

By Diana L. Chapman
The Los Angeles Unified School Board, which has frustrated me for years with its alignment to the city’s mayor and it’s decisions to open up our schools to charters, has finally gained ground with me after doing the right thing. It agreed to close all six of Crescendo’s cheating charter schools last week.
This time, nope, it wasn’t the kids cheating. More scary: It was the adults.
School Board Member Richard Vladovic said there was no room for cheating anywhere or at anytime and last Tuesday – in a 6-0 vote -- approved the shuttering of the campuses along with five other board members.
 “I believe Crescendo had undermined the fabric of public schools and I will never support them unless all the participants are immediately fired and across the board and ethics training commences with the remaining staff,”  Vladovic e-mailed me,  one of the many reasons I will vote for him Tuesday on March 8. “What message are we sending these kids when we teach them it’s ok to cheat? One of these Crescendo schools is my school and I will not stand for it. Thank you for these whistle blowers who reported this heinous ethical breach. The message that was sent by this ethical breach is that we don’t have faith in our children…”
The Los Angeles Times, which broke the story, reported last week that then founder, John Allen, allegedly encouraged principals to provide the exact questions that would be given on state standardized tests and teach them directly to its students – which might have been missed had not some courageous teachers blown the whistle.

Crescendo’s high-end reputation scaled the ranks of amongst charters – especially due to its high test scores. But now everything is questionable. If cheating happened in 2009, we don’t know when it started. This instance alone has  poisoned all the good work Crescendo might have done, because no one knows for sure exactly how and when it all began.
But it did start – and it cannot be accepted despite a school administrator’s recommendation that Crescendo had done enough to clean up its act. LAUSD top administrator, Parker Hudnut, who oversees charter schools, recommended to the board last Tuesday that they extend the contract of two schools for five more years. Those included Crescendo Charter Academy in Gardena and Crescendo Conservatory in Hawthorne.
Hudnut seemed satisfied that suspending the principals for ten days and demoting the founder was enough cleanup for the six charters, that run in Los Angeles, Gardena and Hawthorne.
Thank goodness that morning, someone had some coffee percolating in their brains, including Vladovic who oversees the Harbor area and southern portions of Los Angeles.
Vladovic and I don’t see eye-to-eye on many issues. For instance, I don’t like our schools being shoved off for Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s non-profit to run. It’s grating that a mayor who can barely run the city believes he should run schools.
But here’s one thing Vladovic and I agree on completely. It’s absolutely repugnant to teach students not to cheat and threaten them with suspension and failures when you have adults around cheating!
  “I want to be very clear in my words,” Vladovic said. “If you cheat, you are history! I do not support anyone that went along with this blatant cheating and I do not support Mr. Allen (the director) or any of the principals who went along with the plan to cheat on the test, and more importantly cheat our children. Cheating will not be tolerated.”
Had the school board not taken such a stance, it would set a dangerous precedent that charters and LAUSD schools alike could cheat – and only receive a slap in the hand. If it had not taken such stiff measures, clearly it would open up the doors widely to allow such behavior.
School Board Member Marguerite LaMotte, who abstained Tuesday, did so in part  because she was concerned what would happen with the students at Crescendo’s charters. There is cause for concern. Where will they go?
Incoming Los Angeles School Board Supt. John Deasy was directed to find out what happened with those involved in the matter for the board to consider what will happen next.  Here are my suggestions to the board:
--Making sure that all the principals and director are fired for this breach. Not one of those principals should be staying on board – and the founder must go. By now, many of the students know what happened. As I’ve said before, students absorb what they see and the message they receive must be right: Cheating is not OK.
--Form a committee that must include the whistle blowing teachers, parents, LAUSD officials, and scandal-free administrators on how to reform Crescendo Charters if possible and to form an entirely new board to oversee the schools. It’s current board members allowed this cheating under their noses. Provide a new plan to the LA Unified school board for consideration. If enough steps have been taken to truly clean these charters up, then consider a one year extension/probationary contract for each school. From then on, its contract would have to be renewed yearly for each school.
-- Should no reform package come to fruition, LAUSD school officials must help parents find new campuses for their children. The students, after all, should not be punished. They weren’t the ones that cheated.
--To prevent further cheating incidents, clarify to teachers – public or charter --that they will be applauded for calling in information such as this. For all we know, this type of deception could be ongoing blatantly throughout schools. To curb it, provide school officials and teachers with information on where to call and report it.
Only is this way, can Crescendo gain any secure footing again and only in this way, should it.