When it comes to the highly publicized debates surrounding charter schools in Ohio, the political media circus and their clowns never show up to discuss the real issues facing public education much less the root causes. The Ohio Department of Education, the anti-charter special interest mob, the puppet politicians, and all of their media mouthpieces don't appear interested in discussing the many reasons 125,000+ and growing Ohio families, students and teachers are choosing schools that break away from the traditional model. Instead, they opt to plug their ears and dismiss these choices and voices in preference of politicizing and misrepresenting this important children's rights issue. They've chosen to attack these schools instead of learn with them.
One thing's for sure. It's never about our kids or their education. The traditional education lobby's arguments against charters are almost always centered around funding and their narrative that charters are supposedly "siphoning" money from local school districts. Unfortunately, these arguments are hollow from the start and have been purposefully designed to mislead and destroy school choice.
Limiting school choice and attempting to force charter students back into traditional schools will be a long hard road. In many cases, it will be impossible. These students have already opted out by their own choice or because they had no other choice. The state education funding that the local district once received for these students is not coming back. And even if some of these students were to return, forcefully clawing back the district funding will not solve the problems that led them to leave in the first place.
The issues we're facing today are not new.
Our system has stagnated to the point that we are now dealing with decades-old epidemics, and it's going to take a lot more than money to get our kids back on track. It's going to take a new focus on studying and evolving to meet changing student's needs instead of fighting to preserve and expand funding for buildings and infrastructure. It will take some fresh thinking, a removal of politics from the education system, and it's going to take a hefty dose of Elon Musk-grade disruption.
In the past, we've discussed issues that the ODE and the rest of the old school protectionists don't enjoy talking about like drug and alcohol exposure in schools, chronic truancy, bullying and classroom discrimination against students with unique needs. We've really just begun scratching the surface. There are limitless walking and talking case studies that we can learn from to do better for all students in all schools. Today, we'd like to highlight the even lesser discussed topic of student mobility.
Thought leaders in education have been studying the impact of student mobility for nearly 20 years. So again, this issue is nothing new. The question is what has our Governor and his Ohio Department of Education done to address this growing problem?
In a recent article, Education Week writes:
"In K-12 education, “student mobility,” also called “churn” or “transience,” can include any time a student changes schools for reasons other than grade promotion, but in general it refers to students changing schools during a school year. It may be voluntary—such as a student changing schools to participate in a new program—or involuntary, such as being expelled or escaping from bullying. Student mobility is often related to residential mobility, such as when a family becomes homeless or moves due to changes in a parent’s job."
The article continues on to look at how growing student mobility disproportionately affects certain classes of students with some fairly shocking revelations. Bottom line is that in 2018, our system should be well-equipped to meet the needs of these students and their circumstances that are in many cases way out of their control.
Last year, we had the opportunity to meet ECOT student, Allison Moore and share her story of mobility.
Here's Allison's story in her own words:
"From the end of my sophomore year (2015) life got a little rocky for me, beginning with my parents divorce and me changing into a new school district within the last two weeks before summer break. From that point forward I moved in and out of 4 different houses and transferred between 3 different schools all within a year and a half. When I came to ECOT, I had little contact with my primary guardians amidst a very sticky situation and had been shipped from Florida all the way to central Ohio to live with my grandparents. At this point in time my grades had slipped from an A-B average, to I was lucky if I got a D. From the stress of my parents still on going divorce and the amount of changes that were currently happening in my life, we found out about ECOT and contacted them to see what they could do to help (no schools at this point were willing to deal with the situation at hand). They worked on helping me with my transcripts and put me in classes so I could finally get back on track with my education. I am now earning all A's in my classes and the teachers are absolutely amazing. I have a few teachers who know a little about my situation and they call me at least every few weeks just to check up on me and see how everything is going. I went from teachers who constantly told me I was going no where in life and always putting me down for my performance, to a team of teachers who inspire me daily to push for my diploma. I know for a fact if it wasn't for ECOT I would not be graduating on time or even at all. I don't know where I would be without the love and support every single one of these people put into this school and their students. This is why I stand for MY school."
The biggest challenge for schools responding to mobility is that each student's scenario is entirely unique. While Allison needed a right place right time solution to finish out her K-12 journey, other student's mobility situations have them in and out of foster care, homelessness or repeated medical procedures that make it virtually impossible to get their education via the somewhat regimented traditional model. For these students, mobility challenges define their entire public school experience
Watch Gabriel Young share his mobility challenges in this ECOT video.
The ECOT Equation
ECOT had the lowest family income rating and the highest mobility rating out of any other Ohio school district. How can students learn when they are continuously changing schools and falling in and out of poverty and homelessness? The answer is pretty simple. Flexibility. The priorities in the life of this type of student are those of basic necessities such as food, shelter, clothing, safety, and available money. Education will generally fall down their list of priorities, thus impacting their ability to be successful in the traditional school environment.
ECOT was able to give these students academic stability so when they moved, their classrooms could move with them.
Up until the mid-year shutdown by the Ohio Department of Education and for over 16 years, ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow) was developing live online learning classrooms and breakthrough educational approaches to meet the needs of thousands upon thousands of highly mobile students like Allison & Gabriel. Along the way, ECOT teachers had become so hyper-exposed to students who are facing challenges in the traditional classroom that they became experts at helping them. When you speak with these students, you learn that they went from feeling like the exception in traditional schools to feeling exceptional at ECOT. It really was a perfect blend of exceptional teachers leveraging exceptional technology to tap into some of Ohio's most exceptional but forgotten students. Their words alone should carry immense weight for anyone who is truly interested in defending children's rights and moving public education forward in Ohio.
Defending The Defenseless
So why did the Ohio Department of Education shut ECOT down in the middle of a school year displacing its 12,000 enrolled students and 100's of our state's most dedicated teachers? (including 101 Unaccompanied Youth - 156 Homeless - 964 19-22 Year Olds - 2,198 Seniors - 2,333 Special Needs and 8,553 Economically Disadvantaged Students)
And why does Governor John Kasich's lack of response in preventing the closure leave him seeming dumbfounded to the challenges that this fragile and growing population faces each day?
These are very hard questions to answer especially considering the method and approach the department took and the double standards of accountability exhibited by the state.
ODE arbitrarily designed a daily attendance rule for eschoolers of 5 hours "logged on" screen time and then used the rule rip funding away from ECOT and other eschools for students whose records were not able to verify time against this measure. First, to say that a 5 hours "logged on" daily screen time measure is a little out of touch with how modern day online learning operates is quite an understatement. The department is clearly out of touch with the needs and demands of those it's supposed to be serving and protecting. But the most egregious part of all of this is that the ODE enforced this rule retroactively for a school year before the rule was even in place and before ECOT had time to retool their tracking systems to meet the new requirement. Unlike similar challenges faced in traditional public school districts, the State made no effort to help ECOT. Rather, it appears as if ECOT was swift-boated to closure by the same people who Ohioans entrust to protect and provide for our children and teachers.
This is a slap in the face to all ECOT students, teachers and their families but especially students like Allison, Gabriel and 10's of thousands of others who through their circumstances needed accessibility to a flexible schooling option.
There are only two possible explanations fo what has happened. Either the department is completely ignorant and incompetent or they are operating under some sort of nefarious political influence. I hope I'm wrong, but I'm leaning towards the latter because I just can't make sense out of how an education department could be so... well... uneducated.
School choice options like ECOT should be not only supported by our legislators but even coddled and nurtured by our own Ohio Department of Education. Many would go as far as to recommend that they even be proactively advertised in guidance counselor offices of traditional schools throughout the state.
Because of many families' low income and high mobility, these students have more hurdles than most and with the closure of ECOT, the state has just thrown another unnecessary hurdle up for them to overcome.
When we stop the infighting and dethrone those who are purposefully trying to stifle innovation of our system, maybe then we can finally put the student's needs first and work to accommodate those with the cards stacked against them. We can help all students in any Ohio school find the best possible pathways towards gaining their K-12 public education regardless of their personal circumstances, individual needs and learning styles. Until then, it's looking like more hurdles ahead.
Originally published December 2016
Updated February 2018 with contributions from Margaret Kennedy, Laura Beth McNamara and Evelyn Bateman
ECOT is involved in a legal action with the Ohio Department of Education. The department is attempting to limit school choice by ripping funding away from ECOT and other eschools based on selective and retroactive enforcement of absurd attendance rules. ECOT is challenging the ODE in the Ohio Supreme Court.
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