With Moratorium Lifted, Ohio Welcomes Three New Online Schools

Since the Ohio legislature lifted a moratorium on new online schools, three have already made plans to open their doors this fall. Lawmakers gave the school superintendent leave to approve up to 5 this year, and the 3 that were chosen – Mosaica Online Academy, Provost Academy and Insight School – will join 23 others already operating in the state.

Until this fall, more than 40,000 Ohio students in all grades between Kindergarten and high school were enrolled in online schools. Mosaica, however, is starting off much more modestly. Currently it has enrolled 25 students for this fall, but hopes to quadruple this number by the end of the year.

James Lang, who heads up the school, hopes to admit as many a 1,000 by 2016-17.

The legislature enacted the moratorium in 2005 so that the state Department of Education could develop standards for charter schools. The state wrestled with questions such as how to accurately keep attendance for students who work from home, how many hours each day a student should be engaged and how many students a teacher should be responsible for teaching.

Ohio law first called for the creation of standards in 2003, but the legislature took no action on the proposals submitted, said Department of Education spokesman John Charlton. The budget bill from 2011 called for standards by 2012, which the governor and state school superintendent delivered to the legislature. But lawmakers didn’t adopt those standards, so a backup set — written by an association whose members include online charter schools — became Ohio’s standards on Jan. 1, Charlton said.

The International Association for K-12 Online Learning standards differ on a number of points from those submitted by government agencies. Specifically, they do not lay out a mechanism for tracking student attendance or the school’s budget. In addition, unlike the regulations rejected by legislators, these standards don’t require a student to have the necessary computer equipment at home in order to be considered enrolled.

It’s telling that after a decade of trying to establish standards for e-schools, Ohio ended up relying on standards drafted by a group funded in part by Ohio e-schools, said Stephen Dyer, an education policy fellow for liberal research group Innovation Ohio and a former Democratic state representative from northeastern Ohio.
“Whenever there’s an expansion of e-schools in Ohio, it’s going to be particularly troublesome,” Dyer said, because Ohio pays twice as much per-pupil to e-schools than some other states, “and frankly, we haven’t had a great track record with e-schools in Ohio.”

Bill Bush, reporting for The Columbus Dispatch, writes that the state’s largest online school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, had no official stance on the lifting of the e-school moratorium. Last year the school earned a C from the state, which means it met only 4 of the 26 requirements used by the state report card.