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The ECOT Debacle: When Charter Schools Dodge Accountability

On February 29, 2016, Tim Walker wrote the following for the NEA Today magazine, in the middle he quoted yours truly.

Here are some highlights:

  • The Ohio Department of Education audited ECOT and found only 40% of student met attendance requirements.
  • “While ECOT boasts about graduating 2,674 students last spring, you won’t find in any of its slick marketing materials any mention of the 3,252 students who dropped out. In fact, one out of every six dropouts in Ohio are ECOT students. More ECOT students either leave or fail to finish high school within four years more than at any other school in the nation. And ECOT repeatedly scores F’s on state report cards.”
  • “ECOT is the poster child for the worst of Ohio’s struggling charter schools’” said Becky Higgins, president of the Ohio Education Association. “From persistently poor performance to a stubborn refusal to be held accountable, ECOT is a disservice to the students it purports to be educating.”
  • ECOT’s failures are so towering that even charter school advocates in Ohio and across the country, have distanced themselves.”
  • “The school has become a major embarrassment,” says Sandy Theis.

It’s About the Kids – Dispatch Nails It

Editorial: Fight with ECOT is about kids.  Columbus Dispatch Editorial.  November, 2016

http://workplace.dispatch.com/content/stories/editorials/2016/11/03/fight-with-ecot-is-about-kids.html

Imagine the public outrage if a state agency was caught forking over more than $100 million a year in taxpayer dollars to a wealthy business that submitted invoices for phony work. Oh, and the victims of this scam were children.

And…

Imagine how many children could be helped with $60 million. How many reading tutors could be provided to third-graders? The fight with ECOT isn’t about contracts, it’s about children.

ECOT’s shell game

The fact that ECOT is now claiming student learning time cannot be measured by time logged onto their system is nothing more than a distraction to the fact that they are the worst performing school in the state and have the highest dropout rate in the nation.  ECOT is an online school, they brag about it on their website.  It says they are “a tuition free, online, k-12, school.”  (They forgot the commas though.)

Also on their website it says, “ECOT students are expected to complete schoolwork for 25 hours per week during the school year.”  A few paragraphs down they claim, “Lessons are taught online via a high-speed, secure Intranet connection to the ECOT server.”

So what is going on between the virtual walls of ECOT?  Are they a school where students must complete 25 hours per week of lessons supplied by ECOT?  Or are ECOT students so immersed in off-line projects that ECOT is unable track them?

We’ll probably never know and need to settle for these two truths.  ECOT is one of the worst performing schools in the state, and thanks to taxpayers, ECOT’s owner is a very, very rich man.

Will Ohio seriously investigate ECOT attendance records?

To the editor:

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) gets about $106 million per year in state aid for about 15,000 students. Its founder, William Lager, is a top campaign donor who has contributed to many of Ohio’s state office-holders all the way up the slate.

It seems that before the public was informed about ECOT’s attendance audit dilemma, a lot of political groundwork was stealthily put into place.

In March, State Auditor Dave Yost’s office sent ODE a letter questioning the way officials there were conducting attendance audits of online charter schools and asking the department to clarify its standards for attendance audits.

In May, David Yost called ODE one of the “worst-run” state agencies in Ohio and recommended taking regulatory oversight responsibilities away from the department.

In early July, ECOT mounted an extensive campaign, including a lawsuit, to keep attendance records away from the education department. Now, ECOT and the State Auditor are coming together and questioning ODE’s demands to track online school attendance.

It will be a travesty if ECOT is let off the hook with an excuse provided by the Ohio Auditor that the standards for the attendance audits, enacted by one of the “worst-run” state agencies in Ohio, were “not clear.”

Sincerely,
Jeanne Melvin
Columbus

ECOT to taxpayers, “Go to Hell.”

Like many people following the Ohio charter school catastrophe, I was pleasantly surprised that the Department of Education was finally going to stick up for Ohio’s students and taxpayers regarding ECOT’s scandalous business practices.  I thought ECOT would finally be held accountable for having the highest dropout rate in the nation.

Instead, in an arrogant and offensive move, ECOT basically told Ohio’s taxpayers, the State Board of Ed., and new State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria to, “Go to hell,” when they asked for ECOT’s attendance records.

Apparently ECOT’s owner, William Lager, is so politically connected, he feels he is above transparency and accountability.

ECOT claims they help students who are falling behind in public schools and they offer opportunities public schools cannot.  If they really believe they are providing a beneficial service, then why the secrecy?  If they truly believe they are good and just then they should have no problems being transparent and accountable.

It seems to me that ECOT’s defiance to cooperate with the Department of Education is really just an admission of guilt.  Students should be worried and taxpayers outraged.

go to hell

Senator Schiavoni Condemns ECOT Lawsuit Against The Ohio Department Of Education

Link

COLUMBUS – Today, Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni condemned a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Classroom Of Tomorrow (ECOT) to block the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) from doing a full audit of the school’s attendance records. ECOT argues in the lawsuit that they are not required to “provide” education to their students. They assert that they are only required to “offer,” or place, the courses online.

“This lawsuit is ECOT’s Hail Mary. It is a desperate attempt to cover up the fraud they are perpetrating on the students and taxpayers of our state,” said Senator Schiavoni. “ECOT is required by law to provide a proper education to their students. With this lawsuit, ECOT is admitting that they have something to hide.”

ECOT is Ohio’s largest online charter school. It receives about $107 million from the state per year to educate over 15,000 students. According to a recent national report, ECOT currently has one of the worst graduation rates in the country. Last year, writes the New York Times, “the school’s graduation rate did not even reach 39 percent.”

“ECOT is actually asserting in their lawsuit that they are not required to teach any student anything. But they still demand the hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars taken each year from our public schools,” said Senator Schiavoni. “They have now added high-priced lawyers to their army of high-priced lobbyists.”

Senator Schiavoni’s Senate Bill 298 would require e-schools to accurately track and report student attendance in order to ensure that students were logged on and learning. The bill has received four hearings in the Senate Finance Committee, but has yet to receive a vote.

Letter to the Editor

The Dispatch printed my letter to the editor today:

ECOT hangs on for a reason

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Ohio’s median household income is $49,644. The secretary of state’s website shows that William Lager, owner of the charter school ECOT, contributed $210,085 to supportive politicians in 2015. This means that Lager gave more than four times more to politicians than the median Ohio household even earned.

What do Ohioans get from Lager’s taxpayer-funded Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow and subsequent taxpayer-funded political donations? More students drop out of ECOT or fail to finish high school within four years than at any other school in the country.

Lager’s ECOT charter school is so bad that even The New York Times featured an article on May 18 outlining the questionable practices and sky-high dropout rates.

At what point in time does a political contribution become a bribe?

Kevin Griffin

Dublin