Cleveland Plain Dealer: ECOT Students Rushing to Other E-Schools but Trickling Back to Districts

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Originally published in Cleveland Plain Dealer – January 26, 2018

Students from the just-closed ECOT online charter school have started to land in school districts and other charters, but the numbers remain low and it’s too early to tell how well the process is working.

There’s a clear trend so far, however. ECOT students are rushing to other online charters and trickling to districts.

The shutdown of the giant Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) last Thursday amid a fight with the state over funding, enrollment and participation in classes bounced about 12,000 students out of school mid-year, forcing them to find new schools.

Parents and supporters complained to the school’s sponsor last week and in online messages to the Ohio Department of Education that the closure is disruptive, that it has them scrambling and that it will be hard to find a new school. They are also worried about delays in obtaining records from ECOT and getting them to their new school.

On Wednesday, Gov. John Kasich also asked the state board of education for the plan that the Ohio Department of Education and ECOT’s sponsor, the Educational Service Center of Lae Erie West, have for placing students.

See his letter below.

It has only been a few days since the school was shut down, but here’s an early look at what’s happening with ECOT kids at a few districts and schools:

The Cleveland and Columbus school districts reported taking in about 100 former students – combined – as of Tuesday night. That’s out of 1,200 students from Columbus that attended ECOT and 800 from Cleveland.

Cleveland has enrolled about 50 students, while Columbus has enrolled 36, with another 80 applications still in process, according to district officials.

Both districts say they are reaching out to welcome students back. Cleveland is sending a postcard to the homes of all 800 students with enrollment information.

“News that your child’s school is closing doesn’t have to mean a delay in your child’s learning,” it reads.

The Cleveland schools are not requiring academic records to enroll, said Rick McIntosh, who heads school choice issues for the district.

“Not having academic records should not delay enrollment,” McIntosh said. “We will work with families with what they bring us, to help assign their children to classes.”

Cleveland schools CEO Eric Gordon also told his school board Tuesday that recruiters will suggest the district’s unique and specialized schools, as well as ways to take some classes online to families.

As parents and other observers have noted, many ECOT students left traditional schools after having trouble, so they will be unhappy about returning to a similar experience.

The Akron schools have scheduled an informational meeting for ECOT families looking at enrolling in the district for 4 to 6 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 31, Innes Community Learning Center, 1999 East Ave., Akron.

Other online charter schools, whose programs more closely match ECOT’s, report much greater numbers of students looking to them.

Ohio Virtual Academy (OHVA), the statewide e-school run by for-profit K-12 Inc., enrolled 843 ECOT students by Monday and had started enrollment procedures for another 1,938, said Head of School Kristin Stewart.

And Marie Hannah, superintendent of Ohio Connections Academy, reported that 880 new students had applied to her school by Monday, just over the past week. Connections is run by the for-profit Pearson corporation, which is best known in Ohio as the provider of the PARCC tests the state used for a year.

Both said that they want ECOT students, though Connections has more limitations than OHVA.

Stewart said her school has planned to add ECOT students since the fall, in case of ECOT having to close.

“(Our) governing board made it very clear to us that they want OHVA to be helpful to these students, even with the added risks to the school (financially; state testing logistics; school accountability ratings; higher numbers of at-risk students),” Stewart said.

She added: “This is a crisis situation for these students and families – and it wasn’t their fault.  No student should be left without a school.”

Cleveland parent Melissa Solesto, who had three sons at ECOT, called the school’s closing “heart-wrenching.” After a scramble to gather paperwork – including having her husband request records in person at ECOT headquarters in Columbus – she said she managed to enroll all three at OHVA.

The school is mailing computers to her home and her children will start classes on the 29th.

“They have been incredible,” Solesto said. “It took less than 24 hours for them to approve the applications and paperwork and get them enrolled.”

She worried, however, about other parents who may not have the freedom to gather records as quickly as her.

“You will never be able to get a streamlined idea of how the enrollment process is going, because each family has a different set of circumstances,” she said.

Connections Academy is not able to take as many students as OHVA, Hanna said. Because of state caps on how fast e-schools can grow, the school cannot have more than 5,400 students this year, compared to 3,600 last school, year.

It also has some grades that are full. It can’t accept seniors, juniors or 4th and 9th graders. Applicants will go on wait lists for those grades.For other grades, Hanna said, enrollment can be completed in about two days, if parents have the required documents.

To learn more about Ohio Virtual Academy visit http://ohva.k12.com/.

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