When it comes to the highly publicized debates surrounding charter schools in Ohio, the political and media circus never shows up to discuss the real issues facing public education much less the root causes. The Ohio Department of Education, the anti-charter mob, their politicians and media mouthpieces don't want to talk about 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 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. Their arguments against charters are almost always centered around funding and their perception that charters are supposedly stealing money from traditional school districts. Unfortunately, their arguments are hollow from the start. 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. They've already opted out by their own choice or because they had no other choice. The 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. These are decades-old epidemics and it's going to take a lot more than money to get our system back on track. What it will likely take is a new focus on student's needs over buildings and infrastructure, some fresh thinking, and a hefty dose of 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 effects of mobility for nearly 20 years. So again, this issue is nothing new. The question is what has our system 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 2016, our system should be equipped to meet the needs of these students and their circumstances that are in many cases way out of their control.
We recently had the opportunity to meet ECOT student, Allison and read 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.
For over 15 years, ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow) has been developing live online learning classrooms and breakthrough educational approaches to meet the needs of highly mobile students like Allison & Gabriel. Along the way, ECOT teachers have become so hyper-exposed to students who are facing challenges in the traditional classroom that they have become 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. Their words alone should carry immense weight for anyone who is truly interested in defending children's rights or moving education forward in Ohio.
So why would the Ohio Department of Education be attempting to shut ECOT and other eschools down? It's a very hard question to answer especially considering the method and approach they are taking. ODE has arbitrarily designed a daily attendance rule for eschoolers of 5 hours "logged on" screen time and is now trying to rip funding away from ECOT and other eschools for students who are not able to meet this ridiculous measure. To say that a 5 hours "logged on" daily attendance measure is a little out of touch with how modern day online learning operates is quite an understatement. By their reckless actions, the department is clearly out of touch with the needs and demands of those it's supposed to be serving and protecting. But the craziest part is that the ODE is attempting to enforce this rule retroactively for a school year before the rule was even in place. This is a slap in the face to students like Allison, Gabriel and 10's of thousands of others who through their circumstances needed accessibility to a flexible schooling option. This is a slap in the face to me as a parent because by this new rule, the ODE would find that my child who spends only 2-3 hours per day "logged on" in addition to several hours working offline on her schoolwork was truant for last school year.... even though... well she wasn't. There are only two possible explanations. 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 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. I would go as far as to recommend that they even be proactively advertised in guidance counselor offices of traditional schools throughout the state. 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. We can help them find the best possible pathways towards gaining their K-12 public education regardless of their personal circumstances, individual needs and learning styles.
ECOT is currently 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.
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