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

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.


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.”

Jeanne Melvin

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