Online or “Cyber” charter schools have been in the national news recently as Pennsylvania’s largest online charter school offices have been raided by the FBI, IRS & U.S. Department of Education, and a second cyber-school from Philadelphia has surrendered it’s charter after the state filed a lawsuit against it “citing an astonishingly long list of academic and financial problems.”  Renowned education researcher Diane Ravitch even gave Ohio a shoutout for our own horrendous cyber charters. (Thanks, Diane!)

And because she mentioned our favorite ineffective cyber-charter, the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow (ECOT), and because we hadn’t mentioned them recently and didn’t want you to forget about them, we thought we’d do a quick rundown of some statistics about ECOT.

This post also helps tie in another recent development — the Columbus Dispatch’s crack research team digging into questionable data to spark an investigation by the Ohio Department of Education.  Remember, however, that the district had already contacted the Auditor to request assistance in researching possible irregularities & the Dispatch merely published the story as their latest “gotcha” moment against public education (e.g., Senate Bill 5, Issue 2, school levy, school funding, etc.).  In short, we believe you’ll find this data to be, well, let’s just say it’s questionable at best.

The Dispatch focused on attendance and made allegations about its potential effect on funding, we offer you similar numbers about student enrollment, followed by some graduation numbers (more explained below).

First, the monthly enrollment numbers listed on the 2010-2011 school funding reports.

Monthly Student Enrollment for 2010-2011, as reported to by ECOT to ODE for funding

  • Jul: 9,210.24
  • Aug: 9,207.87
  • Sep: 9,207.87
  • Oct: 8,933.21
  • Nov: 9,066.97
  • Dec: 9,468.75
  • Jan: 9,777.32
  • Feb: 9,914.37
  • Mar: 9,971.06
  • Apr: 10,205.22
  • May: 10,385.36
  • Jun: 10,403.61

Notice the consistent increase in the number of students throughout the course of the year (this includes all grades, K-12).  Next, note the final enrollment totals reported by ODE followed by the number of student withdrawals, including dropouts.

Total Student Enrollment (Final)

  • 2009-10: 9,255
  • 2010-11: 10,453

Total Student Withdrawals (including dropouts)

  • 2009-10: 8,354
  • 2010-11: 9,873

Let’s stop for a second and look at those numbers again.  Above, we looked at the monthly enrollment numbers steadily climb toward the final enrollment number of 10,453 with no hiccups in the data.  And now we see that the reported number of students who left the school is 9,873.  For you non-math folks (don’t get insulted, we’re doing this to help you and we know that the math folks don’t even read these paragraphs and only scan the numbers), that calculates to 94.5% of the total enrollment.  That seems like quite a strange combination of numbers in our way of thinking in the “normal” world.

Now some numbers about graduation.  The Ohio Department of Education publishes graduation rates one year late (there are reasons which we’re not going into here), so the most recent graduation data we have is for the 2009-2010 school year.

Number of 12th Graders

  • 2008-09: 1,212
  • 2009-10: 1,452

Number of 12th Grade Withdrawals (including dropouts)

  • 2008-09: 1,530
  • 2009-10: 1,907

As we saw above, the number of withdrawals seems out of line with the number of students enrolled. In this case, 455 more students withdrew than were actually enrolled.  Did the entire class withdraw or did 2,000 12th grade students enroll and withdraw throughout the year?  Do you find this to be worthy of investigation yet?

Number of Graduates for ECOT

  • 2008-2009: 1,231
  • 2009-2010: 1,546

Reported Graduation rate for ECOT

  • 2008-2009: 35.0%
  • 2009-2010: 40.7%

Okay, so by way of a summary of these last four numbers, in 2009-2010, ECOT had:

  • 1,452 12th grade students
  • 1,546 graduates
  • 40.7% graduation rate

Non-math folks again (we’re not going with ballpark estimates today): 1,546 graduates with a rate of 40.7% calculates to a total pool of 3,799 students.  By comparison, the last three classes of 12th grade students totals 3,656.  That lower-than-any-school-district-in-Ohio graduation rate also means ECOT had a total of 2,253 students that the school failed to guide to a diploma.

For another comparison, a rate of 40.7% means that approximately 591 students from the current year graduated while 861 were left behind.  And that is the highest graduation rate the ECOT has experienced in its history, meaning that every year a majority of students are NOT graduating from the school.  In the past three years alone, it equates to 2,311 of the 3,656 12th grade students failing to graduate from ECOT.  Of course, since the school reports that 4,633 12th grade students have withdrawn during that same 3-year stretch, we do have some questions.

Finally, a number that brings some of this data together in that it is equally appalling.  The state just began reporting the graduation rate for students who have been enrolled in a school for four consecutive years.  This is intended to provide a better indication of the long-term effect that the school is having on students.

Graduation data for students enrolled at ECOT for at least four years as of 2009-2010

  • Graduates: 1,070
  • Non-Graduates: 2,543
  • Graduation Rate: 29.6%

Yes, those numbers are on the correct lines.  There are a couple possible answers that we can get from these final numbers.  First, remember the question above about 12th grade enrollment and withdrawals relative to the graduation count?  Well, this leads us to believe that at least 1,070 of the students were consistently enrolled for the entire 09-10 school year, leaving the final 300 spots to account for the 1,900 withdrawals.

Second, we learn that students who attend ECOT for a long time graduate at a much lower rate than those that transfer in later in their high school career.  Those 1,070 graduated at a 29.6% rate while the overall rate including transfer students is 40.7%, implying that HS students might actually do worse the longer they are enrolled in ECOT.

If you can believe the numbers, that is.

Dispatch?  State Auditor? Ohio Department of Education?  The ball’s in your court.