ECOT Looms Over Ohio Gubernatorial Candidates' Education Plans
Any discussion in politics of the future of education in Ohio inevitably turns to the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.
The two major party gubernatorial candidates, Republican Mike DeWine and Democrat Richard Cordray, have announced their education plans, both taking aim at college affordability, over-reliance on standardized tests, and a lack of mental health services within reach of students.
But the failure of Ohio’s largest online charter school and the state’s ongoing attempts to recover the nearly $80 million in student enrollment overpayments permeate the politics of education this election cycle.
“We have been failed dismally over the past eight years by a lack of accountability over failing charter schools in Ohio,” Mr. Cordray said Wednesday after touring the Past Foundation, a Columbus nonprofit that partners with schools to provide teacher training in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
“For-profit charter schools were responsible for one of the worst scandals in our state’s history,” he said. “The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, the new four-letter word in Ohio politics, cheated our taxpayers out of hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Mr. Cordray called for an end to for-profit charter schools, a clear reference to ECOT founder Bill Lager and his affiliated management company. He also called for all money for charters to come directly from the state and not the local school district where charter students reside.
The DeWine plan, rolled out with little fanfare last week, does not address charter schools in general, but mentions that “ECOT abuses demonstrate the need to make digital learning services more accountable.” The state would establish a “pay for performance” model for online schools that would require “course completion testing and competency” before the school is reimbursed by the state.
“We need to be better measuring the success of specifically online schools” by “measuring where a student is at the beginning of the school year and the end,” DeWine campaign spokesman Joshua Eck said. “When Mike DeWine is governor we will pay these schools when they have shown the state that their students have learned something.”
As for charters generally, Mr. Eck said Mr. DeWine believes parents should be able to choose what kind of learning environment best suits their child.
Mr. DeWine recently sued Mr. Lager and related defendants in an attempt to recover the $62 million still owed to the Department of Education, although the Cordray campaign has accused him of being slow to the fight. The school shut down in January at the midpoint of last school year, leaving about 12,000 students to find other options. The state is recovering the money paid to the school for students not logged into the school system long enough to qualify as full-time students.
Mr. Cordray, backed by teacher unions, said he would take the number of mandatory standardized tests down to the minimum required under federal law.
“Schools should be about learning,” he said. “Let’s create and carve out more time for learning. For too long Ohio schools have been obsessively focused on test scores rather than real education. We’re one of just 12 states ... with high-stakes testing requirements for high-school graduation. Overtesting, together with inadequate funding, have narrowed school curriculums and pushed out other very meaningful ways to engage students.”
Mr. Cordray also called for expanded access to mental health, dental, after-school, and parent support programs; hiring more librarians, nurses, guidance counselors, and social workers, and dangling financial incentives to recruit and keep qualified teachers.
The DeWine plan has four pillars—fewer standardized tests, increased emphasis on technology, more vocational education, and more affordable college.
“The overarching theme is that every Ohio child deserves the chance to reach for their version of the American dream,” Mr. Eck said. “The attorney general believes that we should set the goal that every high school graduate should either be college or career ready. They should be able to immediately pass college entrance exams or they should have a skill they leave school with.”
Mr. DeWine calls for freezing state college tuition so students pay the price they’re charged as freshmen all four years. Mr. Cordray, former state attorney general and federal consumer watchdog, had previously unveiled his proposal for a tuition-free community college education.