Ohio Department of Education Abusing Authority to Shut Down Online Schools. 

Will Your School be Next?

by Scott A. Pullins


            Late in 2015, the Ohio General Assembly passed House Bill 2, an intended reform of Ohio charter schools.  But buried in this massive fifty three page document are two sentences;  sentences that the Ohio Department of Education is now trying to use to shut down nearly every online charter school in Ohio. 


            Each internet- or computer-based community school shall keep an accurate record of each individual student's participation in learning opportunities each day. The record shall be kept in such a manner that the information contained within it easily can be submitted to the department of education, upon request by the department or the auditor of state.


            Ohio Revised Code Section 3314.27 (Effective February 1, 2016)


            If the Department can use these two sentences to shut down schools that graduate the largest number of children in Ohio, could your school be next?  A good question, but first some background.


            House Bill 2 was introduced in the Ohio House on January 28, 2015.  The original bill did not contain the two sentences that are referenced above.  In fact, that language was never added in the original House passed version of the bill.  It was not until the bill reached the Senate Education Committee, chaired by Senator Peggy Lehner, before the language was added.  This language derived from Ohio Senate Bill 148, was sponsored by Senator Lehner and based upon input from the Fordham Institute.


            So how has the Ohio Department of Education applied this new standard?  Simply put, they are demanding that online charter schools provide a minute by minute report of student login times each day, retroactively. 


            Such a policy has created chaos for these schools, and not all of them are big operations like ECOT.  First of all, this new requirement was imposed effectively after the 2015-2016 school year had already ended.  Because online schools had never been required to or told they would need this data, none of them had software to track login times and going back in time is certainly not possible.


            Second, many online school students are provided with computers at the beginning of the school year.  New software of this type, even if it works, would require installation on these computers and not every student or parent can easily ship the computers back or physically bring them to a central office. Some of the software is considered “spyware” and can be blocked by anti-spyware packages on computers, so is not always reliable information.


            Some students do not utilize school provided computers or use different computers occasionally to do their work.  If this special tracking software is not on the computer, then those hours wouldn’t count.


            Time spent researching or working with other sources than the online instructional program will not be tracked either.  Neither is time spent in a library, or reading books, or writing papers, or doing math, or taking field trips, or attending seminars or anything else outside of the official online learning system.  An example of this would be if a student logs in to get their lesson, downloads the lessons, and then works on for an hour, a day, or two weeks. Only the 30 second download would be tracked, and the rest of the time not counted for the student, and the school.


            Some schools have had their software rejected because it would include offline time spent on education that is self reported by students.  But how else would offline time be reported if it is not self reported by the students themselves?  It certainly isn’t realistic for staff to be hired to follow an online student around all day with a stopwatch, is it?


            Could a brick and mortar public school follow these same standards?  Would it make sense to even make them try? 


            Just because a child is physically present in a classroom does not mean they are always paying attention.  Likewise, just because an online school student is logged into the school system doesn’t mean they are learning either. 


            Think about it.  Can a public school prove that each and every student is actually participating in learning activities, minute by minute, for five hours per day, one hundred and eighty four days per year?  Should we place a device in their seats which measures how long they sit at their desks?  What would happen to these schools if we made them repay millions of dollars to the state when they failed to provide this information?  What if they were asked to provide this information for a prior school year that they were not told in advance to keep this information?  Would the public be up in arms about a policy like this?


            Ohio’s charter schools have many challenges.  Financial ones are the biggest of all. Public schools receive an average of $10,850.00 per student.  Meanwhile, online charter schools receive less than $6,000 per student


            Some of the smaller online schools have testified that due to these actions by the Education Department, staff and administrators have not been able to take salaries.  Others have testified that they cannot afford the legal process to challenge these state audits.  Many expect to close if this continues.


            It is long past time to face reality.  Senator Peggy Lehner, her cohorts with the Fordham Institute, and the bureaucratic bullies at the Ohio Department of Education have implemented a system that is designed to shut down each and every online school in Ohio.  That has been their intent from the beginning


            Is your charter school next?  If they can do it to online schools, based upon dubious studies and vague language, then other charter schools are in danger too. But forget about the charter schools, think about if these standards had been applied to your bricks and mortar public school, and the chaos that this would cause. 40,000 Ohio school children have their educational lives in jeopardy.


            If ODE is allowed to operate outside of the law, they will destroy online education, then come for the rest of the charters, then the brick and mortar schools of their choice.  Lawlessness unchecked breeds an emboldened bureaucracy, so while the foes of charter schools stand back and allow this to happen, their own favored schools are in danger as well.