Many ECOT students spend just one hour online for classes each day, state lawyers say
COLUMBUS, Ohio - Many students at the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) online charter school spend just an hour a day online taking their classes, state lawyers said this week, all while the state pays the school as if they were full-time students.
That detail was included in a filing by the state in Franklin County Common Pleas Court Monday as the Ohio Department of Education audits the giant charter school's records. The state wants to see if ECOT's 15,000 students spent enough time on coursework this past school year to merit the $108 million the state paid the school.
Unlike a traditional school, where teachers can take attendance every day, students at online schools like ECOT take classes at home by computer. That makes it hard to measure whether they are actively taking classes, an issue that is becoming increasingly contentious between Ohio's e-schools and the state.
Since charter schools are paid on a per-student basis by the state, there are millions of dollars at stake in determining which kids qualify as attending a school.
An initial review this spring raised red flags that students at ECOT, Ohio's largest online school, may have done far less work than required.
"Based on its review of a sample of the student log-in records, ODE found that most students logged into ECOT's online platform for only about one hour per day," state lawyers told the court Monday.
That's just a fraction of the six to seven hours per school day that students spend at a traditional school.
It's also far less than the five hours per day students should spend, on average, to reach the 920 hours of learning the state requires over a school year, ECOT's own guidelines say.
"Those (ECOT's) records did not substantiate the number of educational hours for which ECOT had billed ODE," the state's lawyers added.
Until this week, the state had only publicly reported ECOT students spending less than that five hours per week benchmark. The filing on Monday was the first indication of how much less.
Note that students can also meet that five-hour daily average with work offline, but the state and ECOT are sparring over whether the school needs to document that offline time.
The school says that it only has to offer 920 hours of "learning opportunities," regardless of whether students take advantage of them. The state says that students must "participate" in classes for those hours.
The Ohio Department of Education was scheduled to look at records in more detail Monday. ECOT filed suit last Friday to block that audit, but Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Stephen McIntosh on Monday denied the school's request for a restraining order.
Department employees then went to the school to resume the audit Monday afternoon, shortly after McIntosh's lunchtime denial.
The department has not offered any estimate on when a report of its findings will be ready, though state law requires it by Sept. 30.
ECOT spokesman Neil Clark did not dispute the one-hour figure claimed by the state, but said the school is meeting state law.
"ECOT students are offered the required number of hours of learning opportunities everyday, just like students at traditional public schools," he told The Plain Dealer. "As a result of the opportunities provided, ECOT graduates more students than any other school in the state. ODE is unfortunately trying to limit the choice of Ohio families who traditional public schools have failed."
Clark also said the school has clean audits from the state auditor, who has recently blasted the Ohio Department of Education for mismanagement.Many ECOT students spend just one hour online for classes each day, state lawyers say | cleveland.com: