Do Some Charter School Advocates Want Online Schools to Fail?

By Scott Allan Pullins, Esq.


The simple answer to this question is, sadly, yes.  But before we dive into this subject, there are some housekeeping measures to get out of the way.


I am proudly serving as Chairman of the Board of Directors of my 3rd brick and mortar charter school in Ohio.  I am an attorney, public affairs consultant, and the former Executive Director of the Ohio Taxpayers Association.  And I want this part to be clear.  I have never met William Lager, the founder of ECOT Schools.  I don’t work for ECOT, get paid by ECOT, nor does my daughter attend ECOT.  I have never served on the board of or worked for an online school.  I am paid a small stipend for this and any other article I write for this site from 3rd Rail Politics LLC.  But I can assure you that the fee doesn’t even come close to covering my time.  It’s nice to be paid a little, but the simple fact is that I’m writing here because I strongly believe in Ohio charter schools, both online and brick and mortar.


It’s sad that I have to begin by disclosing this information.  But for some companies and organizations in the public policy process, there are clear double standards.  In fact, the Cleveland Plain Dealer recently wrote a breathless expose where they, wait for it, discovered that this blog utilizes the same web design firm as does ECOT and other companies involved with ECOT. 


What the newspaper doesn’t fully explain is that they “uncovered” this top secret info because the founder of this blog utilized the design firm’s address on publicly filed documents with the Ohio Secretary of State.  Additionally, the design firm lists their clients, both past and present, which includes ECOT, publicly on their website.  This is what passes for investigative journalism today.  But I digress.


Next week as part of my duties as a charter school board chair, I will attend the annual meeting of the Buckeye Charter School Boards.  Starting this year, the group will be combining its annual conference with the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools.


The combined conferences offer charter school advocates, board members, operators, and others opportunities for networking, continuing education, and catching up with colleagues.  This conference is a big deal in the Ohio charter school movement.  Over 600 people will attend and will have access to keynote speeches, breakout sessions, special events, and mandatory training.  Sponsors of the conference have ponied up anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000.  Exhibitors are charged anywhere from $850 to $2,200.  


But after reviewing the 50 or so breakout sessions, I began to notice something.  Where are the virtual schools, especially ECOT, Ohio’s largest online school?  Neither ECOT nor its management company is listed as a member or associate member of the Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools.  ECOT isn’t a sponsor, an exhibitor, or a presenter for the conference.  There isn’t a single breakout session dedicated to discussions about online schools and the challenges they are currently facing. 

Perhaps this makes sense for ECOT and other online schools.  The Ohio Alliance for Public Charter Schools and its parent organization, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools have increasingly become online school critics.   Nina Rees, the President of the national group, has said that online schools are dragging down the scores of brick and mortar charters.  


But all of it is still unfortunate.  Charter school advocates have too many foes lined up against them already.  Teacher’s unions, liberal think tanks, and a biased news media already outspend us and have bigger megaphones. 


Charter schools were first created because not every student fits into the one size fits all box of traditional public schools.  Online schools were created for similar reasons.  Many parents and students that choose these schools do so because their kids have been bullied or have serious poverty issues. 


Some of these experts need to get out of their downtown Columbus and DC offices and take a drive around Ohio.  They would be shocked at the number of students that are too poor to have a computer and internet at home, to buy new school clothes, or even find transportation to a brick and mortar school.  These are all problems that online schools help solve. 


Are these online schools perfect?  Far from it.  But we’re not going to fix them by excluding them from the conversations on charter schools.