ECOT, Others Continue Attendance Controversy in Ohio

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Pexels, Creative Commons)

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow has been a contender in the most publicized fight over online school attendance, but it is by no means the only school in Ohio that is struggling with attendance documentation.

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), Ohio's largest online school, has been battling efforts by the Ohio Department of Education and Governor John Kasich, who want to use log-in durations to determine whether students are getting the state-minimum 920 hours of "learning opportunities."

In an initial attendance audit in March, it was found that ECOT students were only logging in about an hour per day, reports State Senator Joe Schiavoni writing for Vindy.

According to Patrick O'Donnell of the Plain Dealer, ECOT could lose $80 million or more.

This year's audits, which are continuing through the ECOT battle, are asking online schools to provide log-in durations to verify student attendance.

The Ohio Department of Education started asking for log-in duration times after it found problems with Provost Academy's attendance records in 2015, leading to the Columbus-based school repaying the state about 75% of its funding for that year, or $751,000. The school was reviewed again this year, but no significant problems were found.

ECOT and other schools are complaining that they were not made aware of the changes to the log-in standard until halfway through this past school year.

ECOT lobbyist Neil Clark said:

These review letters make clear that there is no way for e-schools to meet the retroactive demands of a department that is set to destroy school choices for Ohio families. It is impossible for schools to comply with the arbitrary demands of [the department] after a school year has already passed. This is proof that [the department] is simply out of control.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, provided an opposing view:

We have to stop allowing the s-schools to say they're the victims here. The kids are the victims here. Hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars are going to this model, and it's not working for our kids.

About 39,000 students are enrolled in online charter schools in the state of Ohio, making it one of the largest populations of online students in the fifty states. Ohio spent $270 million last year on these students.

Other schools with questionably-tracked attendance include the Quaker Digital Academy, sponsored by New Philadelphia City Schools, whose software does not total accumulated time which "makes it impossible to determine how many hours of participation actually occur." This problem was also found in software used by the Buckeye On-Line School For Success, sponsored by the Educational Service Center of Lake Erie West.

According to Jim Siegel of the Columbus Dispatch, 39 of 41 programs used by the Virtual Community School, sponsored by Reynoldsburg Schools, do not track student participation.

The TRECA Digital Academy, sponsored by the Tri-Rivers Career Center, inconsistently documented student participation. In student samples, the log-in minutes did not match active participation time.

Massillon Digital Academy, sponsored by Massillon City Schools, records the hours that students were online, but those hours do not match what is recorded in the state database.

11 of 25 students at Findlay Digital Academy, sponsored by Findlay City Schools, had fewer hours documented than what was reported to the state.

Akron Digital Academy, sponsored by the Warren County Educational Service Center, seems to be violating state law by operating as a blended learning school. There was no documentation of 1.75 hours per day and a lack of recorded log-out times. The school gives credit for five hours when an assignment is completed.

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