Thursday, September 28, 2017

Shocked. Shocked, I Tell You. ECOT Owes Taxpayers MORE Money.

Put this in the Perfectly Predictable bin. Looks like the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) could only account for about 81 percent of the students it billed taxpayers for "educating" last school year. And this was in a year when ECOT should have been extra careful because the year before it could only account for 40 percent of the students it billed taxpayers.

So now the school, which produces more high school dropouts than any other school in the nation, owes another $15 million ON TOP of the $60 million it already owed taxpayers. All I can say is the school should be grateful the state isn't going back for the previous 15 years of enrollment figures because if they did, ECOT would likely be shown to have fleeced Ohio taxpayers to the tune of more than a half billion dollars.

All while top state officials spoke at their graduation ceremonies -- ceremonies that included not even four out of 10 kids who were eligible to walk across the stage.

This comes on top of the news that not a single of the $103 million that went to ECOT last year from Ohio's public school districts came from a district that the school outperformed  on the state report card. And nearly one in four dollars sent to ECOT came from a school district that outperformed ECOT in every available measure.

A few more nuggets:

  • A spectacularly low 2.9 percent of ECOT's 2010 graduates had a college degree within 6 years of graduation. Only New Miami Local in Butler County had a lower rate among Ohio's 613 school districts.
  • An even more spectacularly low 0.3 percent of ECOT students attained an industry recognized credential. Most of the 24 school districts with the same or lower rates are districts like Hudson and Dublin that are wealthy and whose students are geared toward college, as that group's 40 percent rate of attaining college degrees within 6 years indicates (as noted above, ECOT's rate as 2.9 percent)
  • Their Performance Index score -- the accumulated index the state uses to determine  proficiency -- was lower than any district
  • The school's student growth index was -39.5. A score between -1 and 1 is considered a year of growth
  • ECOT -- a virtual school without walls, buses, lunch ladies, or janitors -- received $7,291 per pupil in state funding last school year -- an amount greater than 85 percent of school districts. And if they did not educate 19 percent of their students as the Ohio Department of Education now claims, their per pupil funding for the kids that they did "educate" jumps to $8,923 -- an amount greater than 96 percent of Ohio school districts
This school is an embarrassment to this state. And even to this nation. The Ohio General Assembly has allowed this hog to wallow far too long. It's time to shut down this school. I'm sorry. I'm sure some kids have been saved at ECOT. I'm sure some parents love it. It's these parents and kids who should be most upset with ECOT's continued bumbling and malfeasance, though, not we who report its existence. 

All I lost were my tax dollars. 

But every time ECOT does something like this, it harms these students' diplomas and what I'm sure was a lot of hard work. But remember this is not these kids' or parents' fault; it is the fault of Bill Lager -- the politically connected ECOT founder and for-profit operator who Ohio's taxpayers have made a millionaire many times over; it is the fault of the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West, who could instantly solve this issue by canceling its oversight of the school, but instead has pushed to give the school an easier report card; and it is the fault of compliant politicians who thought it was more important to keep a campaign finance gravy train going than it was to stand up for kids.

State Auditor David Yost, for example, has been coming down hard recently on ECOT. But here's what he said just two short years ago (remember, I and we at Innovation Ohio reported as far back as 2011 that ECOT and Ohio's other eSchools were a problem):
"It's not your failure that defines you. It's the success that flowed from your decision to enroll in ECOT ... You tell them I'm the employee you're looking for. I'm organized and I'm disciplined and I get the job done because that's the way we do it at ECOT."

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

ECOT gets easier report card. Old one shows 1 in 4 ECOT dollars come from districts that outperform them in EVERY measure.

Now that it appears the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow -- the state's largest online school and the nation's largest producer of high school dropouts -- will be classified as a dropout recovery and prevention school (without a hint of irony) by the Ohio Department of Education, it is useful to look at just how dreadful ECOT's performance has been.

In the 2016-2017 school year, ECOT received $103 million in state money meant for kids in Ohio school districts, but which went instead to ECOT. Not a single penny came from a district that performed worse in more report card categories than ECOT. Only $2,204 of the $103 million came from a district whose performance was the same.

But here's the amazing stat: More than $25 million of that $103 million came from districts that outperformed ECOT in EVERY SINGLE COMPARABLE REPORT CARD CATEGORY!

That's right. One out of every 4 dollars going to ECOT comes from a district that in every way outperforms ECOT -- the largest single chunk of state funding transfers to the school.

Yet with this dropout designation, they will be allowed to remain open and unaccountable for many more years. And in an absolute indictment of Ohio's horrific dropout recovery laws, ECOT will now become one the state's highest performing dropout recovery schools.

This is just embarrassing. I hope the legislature takes note and addresses this shameful performance, not just by ECOT, but also the state's regulatory scheme that has allowed this school to thrive when all manner of data tells us to shut it down.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Ohio Urban Buildings Face Greater Challenges, Perform Same as (likely better than) Ohio Charters

I know that some have criticized me and others for comparing the woeful performance of Ohio's charter schools with the performance of all of Ohio's school districts. They claim it's unfair to compare the two (even though just about 1/2 of all the students and money going to charter schools in the 2016-2017 school year came from districts outside Ohio's 8 major urban districts -- Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown), even boldly saying that taking outside students into account is "preposterous".

And while I've stated for a long time that under Ohio law, charters are considered districts for funding, accountability and federal grant making purposes, and that many of the highest performing charters in the state take significant portions of their kids from outside the urban district in which they reside, I don't wish to litigate this battle.

So, as an exercise, let's grant the advocates their point for a moment and look at urban district buildings, shall we?

Here's what we find:

Ohio's urban buildings perform just about the same as Ohio's charter schools.

Here's the issue though:

  • Ohio's urban buildings typically (my short hand for median) have a 26 percent higher rate of disabled children and a 23 percent higher rate of minority children than charter schools. 
  • A remarkable 94 percent of all major urban buildings have more than 95 percent of their students classified as economically disadvantaged. Meanwhile, 65 percent of charters fit that bill.
Yet despite these greater challenges, Ohio's major urban buildings typically have nearly identical attendance rates, slightly less chronic absenteeism and just about equal report card performance, looking at percentages of A, B, C, D, and F grades. Charters have slightly higher percentages of As, Bs and Cs, and lower percentages of Ds and Fs, but the difference is statistically insignificant.

So despite the fact charters have fewer demographic barriers to success on our test-based report card and about half of their kids don't even come from the urban districts, charters are still unable to perform significantly better than their major urban counterparts -- the most challenged group of schools in the traditional public school system.

Only about 260 of Ohio's 370 charters are included in this comparison. It's clear that the other 90 -- mostly dropout recovery schools located in urban districts -- are among the worst-performing schools in the entire country. So the percentage of poor charter grades is likely far higher than the comparison I'm currently making. 

But I digress.

The bottom line is this: Ohio charter advocates want to only compare charter school performance with major urban district buildings.

Though I disagree with that approach, even if you grant the advocates the benefit of the doubt and do that comparison, Ohio's major urban buildings (who struggle far too mightily and should greatly concern us) still hold their own with their "free market" competitors, despite the 90 worst performing competitors not even being included in the competitors' ratings. Imagine, if you will, how much better Ohio's major urban district buildings would perform overall if the state would not count the bottom 24.3 percent of performers, as they currently exclude for charters. Yet urban district buildings do this while typically facing a more challenged student population.

Oh, and one more thing: Children in Ohio's urban districts are nearly twice as likely to be in a building that's classified by the state as "high performing" than children in charter schools.

So, about those major urban district buildings.

Greater challenges. Same (likely better) performance. Better chance of being in a high quality building.

How, exactly, is Ohio's charter school sector providing the meaningful, quality urban education reform we'd all like to see and were promised would come 20 years ago?

Thursday, September 14, 2017

New Report Cards Tell Similar Story

The new report cards are out, and while there are a few surprises (high performing districts like Upper Arlington receiving Fs for student growth among special education students, for instance), the overall tale the report cards tell is the same: Ohio's public school districts outperform Ohio's charter schools. This is all with the major caveat that in many cases, the report cards simply perpetuate the problem with standardized tests being so closely tied to poverty rather than academic performance. But I digress.

I know many in the charter cheering section hate when I compare district performance with charters. But just remember that all but a handful of school districts lost funding and students to charters last school year. In addition, only about 1/2 of all charter school students come from the Big 8 urban districts (Akron, Canton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Dayton, Toledo and Youngstown) anymore.

If you're taking kids and money from kids in all districts, your overall performance comparison should be with all those districts, not just the lowest performing districts, or the worst performing schools in those districts.

I contend the reason they don't like the comparison is because 2 out of 3 Ohio school district grades are A, B, or C. Meanwhile, 7 out of 10 charter grades are D or F.

While overall Big 8 performance is worse than charters overall (nearly 3 out of 4 big 8 grades are Fs), don't forget that significant portions of students in charter schools, including many high performers, do not come from the Big 8.

It's also interesting to note how high performing buildings in Big 8 urban districts compare with high performing charters. Using the state's standard for high performing charters located here, I found that while about 4.5 percent of all charter school students go to high performing charter schools, 7 percent of Big 8 students attend high performing buildings.

And in  terms of performance, Big 8 high performers receive significantly higher percentages of A grades than their high performing charter school counterparts.

Even though a slightly higher percentage of high performing charter school grades are A, B, or C, what you'll see is that the high performing Big 8 buildings, which have nearly 100 percent of their students from the Big 8, more than hold their own against the highest of the high flying charter schools, many of whose students do not come from the Big 8.

I will dig into other and different aspects of the report card data in the coming days.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

ECOT's Dropout School Application Looks Like My Son's T-ball Registration Form

Look, I know you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, but would you look at the "application" the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow filled out to become a dropout recovery school so it could escape scrutiny and continue collecting hundreds of millions of our hard-earned tax dollars while continuing to be the nation's top producer of dropouts?

It looks like my son's T-ball registration form.

And look at the school's population estimates: 15,000 total students and 8,000 dropout program participants. Really? Perfectly round numbers? Don't the people of ECOT have actual enrollment figures, complete with the students' ages? It sure seems to me that they're kind of spitballing this.

Want more proof?

They actually scratched out their sponsor's identification number, wrote out the number above the scratched out number ... AND TURNED IT IN! 

What, there wasn't any Wite-Out available? Man, $100 million doesn't pay for what it used to, I guess.

Would you let your kids turn in this work to their teacher?

ECOT not only turned this in to ODE, but the school could receive hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars as a result.


I don't know. I kind of expected more from ODE's application process. If you can apply to become a dropout recovery school and essentially escape all accountability and scrutiny, shouldn't it be a little more rigorous than something that looks like it was written on the back of a napkin? Or at least didn't have grammar school errors on it?

Am I just sensitive?

Or is this just par for the course for a school that owes Ohio taxpayers $60 million because it couldn't prove it educated 60 percent of the kids it claimed to educate in the 2015-2016 school year?

2013 Ohio State Study Shows ECOT Bad at Preventing or Recovering Dropouts. Now ECOT wants to Specialize in It.

Four years prior to the school's application to be considered a dropout recovery school this summer, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow -- the state's oldest and largest online school -- was found to be Ohio's leading producer of high school dropouts while only recovering 1.5 percent of those dropouts.

In a 2013 report completed by Ohio State University's Education Research Center, the authors concluded that between 2006-2010, ECOT produced 13,000 dropouts, or 21.5 percent of all dropouts in Ohio's charter schools. In 2010 alone, ECOT had 2,908 dropouts -- nearly double the number of the Cleveland Municipal School District's 1,600. At the time, Cleveland had nearly double the students enrolled as ECOT had, according to the report.

In the interest of fairness, the ECOT enrollment data included in the report differs greatly from reported enrollment data at the Ohio Department of Education. It is not clear from the report how the researchers reached their enrollment figures when they calculated the dropout rate, but it appears they only included students who were 16 years or older.

In addition, the researchers found that of those 2,908 students, only 75 returned to ECOT. Of the 13,000 lost during the previous 5 years, ECOT only recovered 194 -- a dreadful 1.5 percent recovery rate.

The researchers concluded that
"it is clear that the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow strongly influences the dropout numbers of this region (Ohio's urban districts). Reducing dropouts at this one school could improve the problem significantly."
What is critical to remember is that this study compared ECOT's impact on dropout prevention and recovery with urban districts in the state -- traditionally the top producers of high school dropouts among Ohio school districts. And among even those, ECOT was particularly awful.

If ECOT's 53 percent dropout rate reported by the Ohio State researchers held consistent for all its eligible students since the school opened in the 2000-2001 school year, ECOT could be said to have produced about 40,000 dropouts during its existence.

That's about how many people live in Lima.

Yet now ECOT, which the state has known for at least four years is the largest single contributor to Ohio's dropout problem while recovering barely any of those dropouts, wants to be called a dropout prevention and recovery school -- a special designation that brings with it plenty of protections from accountability and perpetual existence.

As the Plain Dealer reported today, ECOT's claims to have an impossibly difficult population of students to educate are clearly out of line with its actual population. If ECOT received the dropout designation, it would have among the least challenged populations in any dropout recovery school. Yet it would be paid far more than any other.

The Ohio Department of Education, which is reviewing ECOT's application, should heed the warnings it received four years ago and not allow ECOT to hide from scrutiny, insisting instead that ECOT improve its performance dramatically for its kids.

Perhaps the department should at least insist that ECOT stop producing the most dropouts of any school in the nation before it says ECOT should specialize in preventing and recovering dropouts.

That, I believe, would be a great place to begin.