Virtual School Meanderings

March 11, 2015

News – Ohio’s First Public School Hundred-Millionaire: ECOT Founder William Lager

It seems kind of fitting that a day after the release of the third annual NEPC report that indicated virtual schools remain unproven that this item scrolls across my electronic desk.

Ohio’s First Public School Hundred-Millionaire: ECOT Founder William Lager

The Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT) is the largest charter school in the state of Ohio.  The online school is easily the largest charter school in Ohio, is larger than the vast majority of Ohio’s traditional school districts, and received over $88 million in state funding last school year.  This year that amount is expected to jump to over $92 million.

On the latest report cards released by the Ohio Department of Education, ECOT continues to rank below all of the 8 large urban schools that are often-criticized by legislators and in the media for their “sub-par” performance.

For graduation rate, a key indicator for the long-term success of a school/district, ECOT’s 4-year graduation rate is a paltry 35.3%, while their 5-year graduation rate of 37.8%, which is only slightly higher, was still over 25 points worse than the lowest urban school district, Cleveland, which checked in at 63.3%.  While we now see the legislature writing laws to specifically regulate Cleveland and Columbus more tightly, the charter school laws that apply to ECOT continue to be more lax.

And while the data on performance for this school of 13,836 students (11th largest “district” in the Ohio) is bad enough, the financial games played by the school’s owner/operator are even worse.  We wrote a comprehensive piece about ECOT back in 2011, but since then the school has continued to grow and continued to siphon ever larger sums of money away from higher-performing schools.

On December 8, our post, Ohio’s Largest Taxpayer-Funded Charter School, ECOT, Receives Bonus Check, described how the school was up for approval of an additional $2.9 million dollar bonus from Governor Kasich’s Straight A Fund.

On December 10, we posted a follow-up, ECOT Founder Living VERY Well Off Ohio’s School Funding Dollars, where we went into greater detail about the financial games being played and won by ECOT’s Founder, William Lager.

Today, we have another update to the political donations and financial windfall experienced by Lager.

To continue reading, visit

I say interesting because the NEPC report found several things that are key to this blog item:

  1. Research into student performance in full-time K-12 online learning environments shows cyber schools (like ECOT) do quite poorly overall.
  2. Generally legislation and regulation are not based on what we know from the available research.

It also highlights something that the NEPC report alludes to, but doesn’t come right out and say:

  • Most cyber charter policy is being driven by corporate interests that look to profit from K-12 education.

And profit they do, according to the Ohio’s First Public School Hundred-Millionaire: ECOT Founder William Lager entry.  It seems that annual donations over a 14 year period of just under $1.5 million is good enough to help fetch you just over $110,000,000 for your companies from the public education trough!!!


January 12, 2015

Comment – Bloomberg: What Went Wrong at the Upstart School Michael Milken Backed?

So a colleague of mine sent me this back in mid-November.  As the year has closed (although this is being written in advance, so the year is still closing as I write), the stock price of K12, Inc. (i.e., LRN) has gone from $21.01 at the beginning of 2014 to a high of $25.98 on 23 June to closing 26 December at $11.89 (I should note that it was $39.37 on 29 April 2011 – its highest point, and it also began the 2013-14 school year at $36.78).

I had expected that this entry would be posted early in the new year (probably Monday of last week), but since I delayed it for some other content I can report that on the day that I am updating the entry – Wednesday, 07 January – the stock price for K12, Inc. is opening at a low of $10.53.  Check what it is today (i.e., three trading days later) to see if it is still slipping or has started to re-bound some.

From Bloomberg, Nov 14, 2014, 3:00:00 AM
April 28 (Bloomberg) — Stephen Schwarzman, chief executive officer of the Blackstone Group LP, and Kenneth Griffin, chief executive officer of Citadel LLC, talk about education and the U.S. economy. They speak with former junk bond financier Michael Milken at the Milken Institute 2014 Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California. (Source: Bloomberg)

K12 Inc. (LRN) was heralded as the next revolution in schooling. Billionaire Michael Milken backed it, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush praised it. Now the online education pioneer is failing to live up to its promise.

To read the entire article, go to

Yet at the same time legislators continue to allow their failing schools in jurisdictions like Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee (to name just a few) to operate. Legislators – or those delegated to exercise such authority – in North Carolina just recently opened the doors to another K12, Inc. school, the first of its kind, in North Carolina. It was almost amusing that several of the regulators cited concerns about the poor academic performance of students in K12, Inc. schools, the fact that several K12, Inc. contracts had not been renewed, and that the K12, Inc. school in Tennessee was threatened with closure (interestingly, the second and third items were also due to poor academic performance of students in K12, Inc. schools).

At the same time, I think we are all adult enough to recognize why K12, Inc. continues to have success on the legislative front – even when their students continue to fail and their investors are losing money – as one article stated:

Nonprofits working with K12 have tried several avenues over the years to get the online charter into North Carolina, including a lawsuit. Over the years, the company and nonprofits working with them have had influential help. Former state Rep. Jeff Barnhart and Franklin Freeman, a former top aide to Mike Easley when he was governor, lobby for K12. Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, a lawyer, represented a nonprofit group formed to host the school. (News Observer)

And another said:

K12 Inc.’s spokesperson Jeff Kwitowski said the company did not pay for a North Carolina delegation to visit, and that groups often drop in to visit the company’s headquarters in northern Virginia while attending to other business in the nation’s capital. (Laurinburge Exchange)

I’m quite confident that K12, Inc. didn’t foot the bill – but I suspect that for many of these visits there is some ideological non-partisan organization that covers the costs of one of their favourite privatization schemes.

It is unfortunate – but between the money these companies spend directly on lobbying, and the money spent by their “non-partisan” friends, these kinds of decisions are rarely in doubt!

January 5, 2015

Article Notice – Empowering Teachers? An Exploratory Study Of Personnel Practices In Virtual Charter Schools In The United States

This was published over the holidays.  An interesting study – and nice to see some more research into cyber charter schooling.


Dennis Beck, Robert Maranto


Virtual charter schools have the potential to transform teacher personnel management. However, there is currently little evidence that they are doing so. This study examined how 89 teachers at two virtual charter schools perceived school personnel practices and leadership. Survey analysis indicated that teachers perceived personnel practices as resembling those of their previous ‘brick and mortar’ public schools. The results also showed that these teachers had a more positive view of school leaders and the school climate than they had at their previous schools. Implications are discussed in light of teacher education and personnel management literature. Additional research is recommended, as is development of the preparation of school administrators to include online, flexible, and distance learning, and related innovative leadership practices.

Full Text: PDF

The editorial described this article as:

Our final paper is a contrast with the others in many ways. It opens a new line of enquiry for JOFDL; namely, the consideration of the potential to transform personnel practices in schools that adopt learning management systems, particularly those set up to provide virtual schooling. Given that the phenomenon of virtual schooling has spread rapidly in the United States, it is not surprising that the authors and evidence analysed are from that region. Beck and Maranto (2014) clarify that there are many novel opportunities for school leaders in such schools to unobtrusively view and evaluate teacher performance—using recordings and online opportunities and to (hopefully) support and improve their own and others’ performance as part of the process. Increased collaboration between school leaders and their staff has been recognised as good practice in recent years (Stoll, 2011). However, Beck and Maranto did not find that teachers in the virtual charter schools perceived transformation to have taken place. Although the teachers did “tend to rate the virtual charters more positively on empowering and respecting teachers, and on developing a student-centred school culture” (p. 68), there was no transformation of administrative practice. Given the legacy of correspondence schools (Twining & Davis, in press) in the Asia Pacific region, such transformation is also unlikely here. Maybe that is something to aim for in future. The recommendations to include aspects and experience of effective flexible and distance learning in leadership professional development are certainly relevant worldwide, and particularly in this region. There is a shortage of skills and knowledge about digital technologies in school leadership (Levin & Schrum, 2012), which indicates that administrative leaders have not prized open, flexible, and distance education.

I’ll be honest and say that given the source of publication I would have benefited – particularly for the Kiwi audience – if the article had made the connection that since the implementation of Tomorrow’s Schools in New Zealand back in 1989, it effectively made every school in New Zealand a charter school.

November 4, 2014

ALEC And Online Learning

This came across my radar screen yesterday – ALEC’s Extensive Plans for Education Restructuring in Your State.  It is an interesting read, and I think readers will be particularly interested in this portion:

Now for a great idea: Take lower-performing students and put them in an automated education setting. Call it “virtual public school” to make it sound fancy. Be sure to note that virtual public school “may” help students improve academically.

Virtual Public Schools Act  (2005) 

…“Virtual school” shall mean an independent public school in which the school uses technology in order to deliver a significant portion of instruction to its students via the Internet in a virtual or remote setting. …

Meeting the educational needs of children in our state’s schools is of the greatest importance to the future welfare of [state]…

… Providing a broader range of educational options to parents and utilizing existing resources, along with technology, may help students in our state improve their academic achievement….

Virtual schools established in this article… Must be recognized as public schools and provided equitable treatment and resources as any other public school in the state. [Emphasis added.]

These “schools in front of a screen” may” work– we don’t know if they will prior to pushing through this legislation in [state]– but be sure they get their share of [state’s] public school fiscal pie.

In 2010, ALEC expanded its virtual learning to include a “clearinghouse” of online courses to be offered across districts. The model bill, entitled Online Learning Clearinghouse Act, includes no details regarding the accountability of the online education vendors. There is, however, a section detailing the payment of fees to the unaccountable virtual vendors.

And in order to further ensure that under-regulated online vendors might have a chance to pocket public school funding, in May 2012, ALEC proposed a model bill, Online Course Choice for Students:

This bill opens up the world of high-quality online course instruction to students. Each year, students in public school grades 7-12 would have the option to enroll in up to two online courses that award college credit or meet standards for core academic courses. The state would create standards and accountability measures to ensure that they are providing students with a course catalog containing only high-quality online course offerings. Funding for each online course is driven by the free-market in an open and competitive process, rather than simply allocating a portion of student funding unrelated to the actual cost to deliver the course. (In other words, vendors are paid per student.) Finally, after completion of each online course,parents and students provide feedback via the web in an open forum to rate the effectiveness of the course.  This feedback, combined with test scores, provides a quality indicator ranking that is available to all. [Emphasis added.]

No agency monitors these vendors to guarantee that teaching and learning are actually happening.

October 30, 2014

Article Notice – The Nature of Online Charter Schools: Evolution and Emerging Concerns

Note that this is an article I was involved with that was officially published on Monday.

Hasler Waters, L., Barbour, M. K., Menchaca, M. P. (2014). The nature of online charter schools: Evolution and emerging concerns. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 17(4), 379-389.

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