William Lager, the founder of Ohio's largest charter school, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), appeared before a crowd of his employees and other supporters at the Ohio Statehouse Tuesday, the Plain Dealer reported.
In a confounding requirement, one that would seem to undercut the value of ECOT teachers "in the classroom," attendance was mandatory.
''Traditional schools are not permitted to take teachers and staff out of the classroom for a daylong political event," said Sandy Theiss, executive director of the advocacy group ProgressOhio, in comments to the PD, "and charter schools should have to follow the same ban."
Teachers told the Columbus Dispatch last week
that they objected to the mandatory attendance. One employee said that they were expected to "essentially be unpaid lobbyists for ECOT." (An ECOT spokesman clarified
that the attendance was technically voluntary because there would be no consequences for failing to show up.)
Lobbying efforts are necessary because the controversial online school has been required to pay back $60 million in state funding. It has failed to justify its enrollment figures. ECOT could only document class participation of 6,300 of its 15,300 students, according to the PD.
William Lager, however, ardently defended the school he founded 18 years ago on the grounds that students prefer to take classes online.
The rally occurred amid growing concern and overwhelming evidence about the lack of effectiveness of virtual schools. A study last year on Ohio online charter schools by NYU Professor June Ahn
found that, for example, a middle or elementary school student starting at the 50th percentile in math would, on average, fall to the 36th percentile after one year at a virtual school. In reading, that same student would drop to approximately the 45th percentile. The results were roughly equivalent in tenth grade.
Said Lager, at the rally: ''We're still struggling to bring the state into the 21st century."
Said one ECOT employee, to the Columbus Dispatch:
“It’s taking us away from our students. What are the students going to be doing?”