The Ohio Department of Education is making the news at a record rate these days, and when you sift through the endless headlines, it's really a tale of two court cases. 

Court of Public Opinion

In the first case, the ODE finds itself in the court of public opinion after recently releasing report cards for Ohio's 608 school districts. According to the new state report cards, most schools in Ohio are mediocre or failing. Less than 15 percent received an A or B grade. This sudden crash in district grades has sent Superintendents and school boards into triage mode. From district to district, the responses vary, but an overwhelming majority seem to be slightly defensive while questioning the relevance of these grades and even challenging the ODE measures themselves. Many point to a state education system that has repeatedly shot itself in the foot in that it has literally been guinea pig testing different testing systems and standards in realtime on our schools, teachers and children year over year... giving them little time to adjust or improve. Some have even gone as far as to turn the tables on the ODE and offer their own report card assessment of the department itself.

From the Lancaster-Eagle Gazette: State gets an "F" for report card system

"This system isn’t fair to the students. It isn’t fair to the teachers. It’s not fair to administrators. It’s not fair to parents. And it’s not fair to voters trying to make sense of it all. That is the definition of a failed system."

In The Franklin County Court of Common Pleas

ODE tries to destroy school choice

In the second case, K-12 online public charter school, ECOT (The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow) has taken their dispute with the Ohio Department of Education to a county courtroom over the department's wild west approach in changing measures of eschool student enrollment and the funding that goes along with it. If you're following the case as closely as some, you'll notice a common thread here to the report card release. It's still hard to discern exactly what specific standards the ODE is trying to measure to, how they should be measured and how ODE's changes will do anything to improve or expand public education opportunity in our state.

ECOT's case against the ODE distills down to 3 simple questions.

  • Should the ODE be permitted to arbitrarily implement a new 5 hour total daily "logon time" (screen time) requirement as a rule for attendance measure of eschool students?
  • Should ODE be required to justify through some sort of educational science or theory exactly what makes the 5 hour daily "logged on" time relevant to measuring anything related to the success of eschool students?
  • Should the ODE be allowed to immediately and retroactively apply this new rule as part of an enrollment audit and then use the retroactive results to rip funding away from eschools for students they've already educated in past years?

Depending on where you get your news about the court proceedings, you'll likely read oversimplified explanations of what's being disputed that are usually seasoned up with pinches of politics, cups of conspiracy/fraud theories and dashes of divisive rhetoric... Take this article snippit from Jim Siegel at the Columbus Dispatch for example:

"ECOT argues that under the law, a student could log in for as little as a minute per day to earn full per-pupil funding. But Tom Ash of the Buckeye Association of School Administrators, said a student in a traditional school could not get away with that: leaving after first period would make a student truant, which could eventually land the student in juvenile court."

Did you catch that? Siegel attempts a weak-armed left jab with an intentional over-simplification of ECOT's legal claims... then he goes for the right-hook knockout by trying to pit traditional schools vs. non-traditional ones. This type of journalism is more than frustrating to read. It's so divisive as it not only aims to pit schools against schools but also helps to divide up teachers, families and neighbors. At the end of the day, it only slows progress for our kids.

Here's some of what Siegel fails to mention about ECOT's argument.

  • Allowing the ODE arbitrarily set eschooler attendance measures of total "screen time" that are based in nothing of educational value is accepting a misapplied measure to a relatively undefined standard.
  • The criteria of the rule itself and the ODE's attempt to brazenly defend it clearly shows a major disconnect between the department and an acceptable level of understanding of how learning in and around modern-day online classrooms transpires.
  • Allowing the ODE to apply this hollow measure as a retroactive rule that would rip funding away and shut down Ohio eschools sets the ODE's course in direct conflict with the school choices that nearly 40,000 Ohioans have made this year alone -not to mention the choices and jobs of thousands of Ohio educators all while threatening the alma mater legacies and futures of 100’s of thousands more.

And for those readers unfamiliar with the school or those who blindly follow the anti-school-choice media narrative about charter schools, Siegel also conveniently fails to provide any credibility to backup ECOT's position.  

ECOT is a nothing short of a pioneer in public education that has grown to be one of the largest K-12 online schools on the planet.. right here in our Ohio backyards. Over the last 15 years, ECOT has evolved right alongside of technology to discover emerging tools and techniques that they then use to help to solve some of the most complex challenges our state education department faces. ECOT has made it possible for teachers to meet students where, when and how they learn best. ECOT is not just a game-changer for public ed. It's a life saver for many

ECOT has proven it's worth and importance to on the backs of the personal choices that 10's of thousands of Ohio students and educators. ECOT has helped close to 20K graduate since opening it’s doors to just a handful of students a little over 15 years ago.  Current enrollment at ECOT is close to 16,000 and ECOT graduates 1 out of 20 of all Ohio grads. As recounted time and time again through 1000’s of independent parent, student and teacher testimonials, ECOT meets critical and unique needs for many students in our state that are barely served or completely ignored elsewhere. Online school is certainly not for every student but it is the perfect choice for many who are struggling in their current situation. From severely disadvantaged students born out of any one of a number of personal, financial, geographic or medical situations to those fast trackers who only want to pursue their education more efficiently than other schools may be equipped to allow, ECOT not only fits a major gap in our system but it's growing and innovating to fill in all the little cracks too.

A negative outcome in ECOT's case would dismantle well over a decade of progress in non-traditional public education and be a severe blow to school choice in Ohio. It would be a tragedy.

So hear we are... while the greater Ohio public education world blathers endlessly on about report cards (that will likely change 10 more times in as many years), schools like ECOT are fighting for their lives against the state itself and the parallels of the two cases couldn't be more clear.

The question is... What in the world is going on over at the ODE and what role will the department play in moving public education forward for all Ohioans?

A ruling in this case is expected this week.

ODE In Transition Or Spiral?

Over at the ODE, Paolo DeMaria was recently selected as the state’s superintendent of public instruction. DeMaria climbed aboard the S.S.O.D.E. just this past May and I hope everyone in the state is rooting for him because he surely walked into a mess. We haven't heard much from Superintendent DeMaria about the ECOT case but he did make some statements regarding the report card release - In a press release, DeMaria said the cards "reflect new tests, higher achievement targets and more challenging expectations."  And in a subsequent conference call, he said "We shouldn’t let the report cards define us. We need to keep these grades in perspective. We need to demand stability and stay the course." 

As a young family with 3 soon-to-be 5 school age children in Ohio, we're undoubtedly rooting for DeMaria's department and the schools to reach higher achievement standards. We're all in. We have 2 of our own enrolled in our local city school district and another child enrolled at ECOT. However, after 10 years in multiple districts and formats, we're not sold on the idea that higher accountability and more expectations will be the key ingredients in the recipe for public ed success. As exposed by this report card debacle, the idea that the ODE can just toy around with different tests, mandate different standards and then incompletely measure to these moving targets to actually improve outcomes is an idea that has been failing for years.

Our biggest concern is with the notion that we should demand stability and stay the course. This is an idea that has been slowing us down for years. Whether we're talking about the latest report cards or the the fair treatment of schools like ECOT,  there seems to be very little consensus around what  "the course" is. For the ODE, this is bigger than just a communication issue. It's an issue of vision and purpose. 

We can only hope that DeMaria has been charting a fresh, future-hungry and student-focused course for the department and our kids.

The world that our children will ultimately have to learn how to thrive in is all about disruption. It's all about breakthroughs. Thought leaders in Ohio should be working on the ground (and online) with parents, teachers, students and schools focused on surfacing then propelling the next big ideas in education. These breakthroughs are already happening all around us... in our traditional schools... in our charter schools and in our home schools. Constantly setting new state standards and screwing around with questionable measures while repeatedly attempting to march our diverse and fragile system towards different finish line grades is getting us nowhere. If we want to expand opportunity and improve outcomes for all children in our state, we'll need a system and leaders that demand collaboration, foster innovation, and focus on effectively measuring what really matters. 

The views, opinions and positions expressed by authors on ECOT PALS blogs are the authors alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions or positions of The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) or any other individual or group. Would you like your opinion published on ECOT PALS blog? Please contact us to inquire.

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