For devotees of social media, Facebook is a great place to view thousands of cat videos, faded high school prom photos and snapshots from someone’s last vacation. And everything else imaginable.

But one recent post had nothing to do with cats. Or proms. Or for that matter, someone’s recent trip to Myrtle Beach. Instead, three short sentences written on Facebook in early June by GOP Rep. Andrew Brenner of Delaware County speak volumes about what is wrong with public education policy in Ohio.

“I attended the ECOT graduation today. Cliff Rosenberger was the keynote speaker. It was impressive.”

Never mind that the New York Times reported in May that “more students drop out of the Electronic Classroom or fail to finish high school within four years than at any other school in the country, according to federal data.”

Now that’s really impressive.

If Brenner could have added a fourth sentence, he might have identified Senator Bill Coley as the person who introduced the keynote speaker.

And if a fifth sentence could have been squeezed into Brenner’s terse post, it might have identified the founder and head of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow’s management, William Lager, as a mega contributor to the Ohio Republican Party.

Oh, and yes, Coley sits on the Finance Committee, where SB 298, a newly crafted measure to add safeguards to verify online charter school attendance for state reimbursement, a bill diverted from the Education Committee to dampen its prospects for passage, is moribund.

Moribund? Make that dead on arrival.

Another detail: Brenner is Chairman of the House Education Committee, where state policy for Ohio’s public school districts and charter schools is crafted.

Rosenberger is the Speaker of the House, who in the past was the recipient of a free junket to Turkey  sponsored by the Gulen charter school chain. Gulen operates 19 charter schools in Ohio that are affiliated with the Gulen Movement led by Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish exile and Islamic cleric.

Politicians like Brenner tend to write in short sentences that lack detail and context. But unlike Brenner, let’s not be terse. Yes, details, details. So here is more detail to help you, gentle reader, fill in some blanks.

 

Brenner has said previously that “public education is socialism.”  But if we follow the Chairman’s logic (hmm, I thought only well-known socialists and collectivists like Mao Zedong and Leonid Brezhnev were referred to as Chairman), we find illogic, viz., the Chairman of the Education Committee seems very much opposed to public education.

But the illogic gets worse.

Profits generated from the public funds received by charter school operators like Lager and White Hat Management’s David Brennan flow to their favorite Republican politicians in the form of contributions. These profits, snared by privately operated management companies with hand-picked, unelected boards not subject to full public transparency and exempt from 150 sections of state law, ultimately wind their way to committee chairs in the legislature as well as more senior leadership in the House and Senate.

To Chairman Brenner, this is capitalism at work.  And capitalism is the very opposite of socialism, right?  Yes socialism, as evidenced by the operation of public school districts who raise their revenue from the taxation of local property and who are subject to full legal transparency and accountability, governed by a group of citizens elected by qualified voters in the community where they operate. These are community schools, the real public schools. Contrast that with charter schools, where, unlike public schools, there is no requirement for board members to be qualified voters, viz. citizens.

I wonder why Republicans aren’t in favor of requiring proof of citizenship for charter school board members, as they are for some voters. Hmmm.

Anyway, I’m relieved now to know the very clear difference between capitalism and socialism, thanks in part to Chairman Brenner. Snicker.

Brenner’s Facebook post about ECOT, Speaker Rosenberger and Finance Committee member Coley, reminded me of an interesting experience.  Two years after retiring from the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office, I was invited by a Democratic legislator to discuss some of my ideas for charter school reform. The legislator knew that I had first-hand knowledge of the many scandals in the charter school industry. After a discussion about the chronic issues faced by ODE in attempting to monitor the conflicted, profit-centered and ethically challenged charter school sector, I presented some materials about charter schools as well as a list of needed reforms.

When the legislator looked at my items, he nodded his head in agreement with all of my recommendations for revisions to Chapter 3314 of the Revised Code until he got to the very end of the list.

“This will never happen” he said, as he pointed to the Number One item on my charter school reform agenda: get the money out. No charter school profits derived from public funds can be conveyed to members of the legislature. He knew that my Top Ten Needed Charter School Reforms  might have a small chance of passage someday – except for the very last item.

Dead on arrival.

When the Columbus Dispatch revealed on July 8 that ECOT filed a lawsuit  to stop the Ohio Department of Education from conducting an audit of its student attendance, the significance of that meeting with the legislator several years ago was firmly connected in my mind to the significance of Brenner’s Facebook post.

Money. Money. Money.

As the realization of ECOT’s action to stop the impending state audit by unleashing attorneys and lobbyists paid with the school’s profits from state funds to do battle at the Statehouse, in the media, and yes – social media, I was reminded of the deeply troubled Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, maddened by too many battles. The colonel says it best in this classic scene: the horror, the horror.

Yes, suspicions confirmed. As the infamous former congressman Ozzie Myers of Abscam fame put it, “money talks and bullshit walks.”

Public money. Public money. Public money – for private purposes.

 

Denis Smith is a retired school administrator and a former consultant in the Ohio Department of Education’s charter school office. He writes about education issues as well as politics and constitutional reform.

 
  • ecotPALS

    Groundhog Day at the Blunder!
    Only this time, the same article they’ve been releasing for probably a decade now has slightly more of a Buzzfeed/TMZ edge to it. OMG! Monthly hatchet reporting on ECOT must be a junior reporter’s job to copy paste now.

    Starting to think the wunderbund is losing it because they are now operating on the definition of insanity level. Doing the same thing over and over again an wundering why they achieve the same result. Nothing.

    It may help to admit that your effort at misrepresenting the ECOT grad rate has failed… failed again… even failed when the NYT reported… and continues to fail even though you cite NYT’s half stat again and again and still again. Insanity!

    Anyways, 65% of ECOT High Schoolers ENROLL AT ECOT ALREADY AT LEAST A YEAR BEHIND WHEN THEY ARRIVE. The “other schools” that cast them out, left them behind or where they just didn’t fit in see an improvement in their 4 year on time graduation rate while ECOT takes the penalty and a free ticket to ride the plunderspun trash train. But guess what, those kids did graduate with ECOTs help… maybe a little late (through no fault of ECOTs)

    Sadly, according to the NYT, the plunder and the rest of the regurgitators. THOSE KIDS DON’T COUNT enough to accurately report on. I can hear whispers coming from the editor’s office… “Just make them disappear”

    A world of agenda media insanity….

  • Susan Riley

    My grandson has lived with me since the first of the year. Since his dad had him in ECOT, he stayed in it for the rest of the school year. (NOT next year!!!)
    You should hear the voice mail message I got from ECOT today. I didn’t know whether to laugh or throw the phone through the wall.
    A male voice, at once sounding indignant, authoritarian and as though his very ‘Murican freedoms were being threatened, told me how unfair it was that the State of Ohio was “demanding” to know ECOT’s attendance numbers. How ECOT had tried and tried to reason with this most UNreasonable institution and that they were now forced to take the “drastic step” of filing a lawsuit against the State Dept. of Education. They gave me a number to call. I called, and told the them to “put the screws to ECOT” for all they were worth.
    Here’s the number: 614-995-1985. Call them yourself and help get this tax drain of an institution closed down!

  • Public Ed Partners

    Bill Lager and ECOT have gotten away with way too much for way too long.

  • Sy Colepath

    ^^^^TROLL ALERT^^^^

  • ecotPALS

    ^^^^ STANDS FOR NOTHING ^^^^

  • Former ECOT Teacher

    So glad to hear that you will be working to provide a better education for your grandson and that you responded to ECOTs plea’s with indignation.

  • Former ECOT Teacher

    Of course no school will make 100% progress with every student. And certainly there are children who joined ECOT who had negative experiences at the prior schools. However, ECOT helps just a little too much with the graduation rate of their students. And ECOT is to blame for many of the graduation issues that it faces. There are no consequences for failure to engage in lessons at ECOT – you don’t log in? Your voicemail box might get full in addition to that of your parents. After 21 days, I think, a letter arrives at your door, and for several days after that. Not much of an inducement for the majority of students. Their failure to refuse students who will not thrive in an online environment that requires even more drive and responsibility than a traditional brick and mortar school, is a major problem. Their model as a business who need students for revenue does not allow them to do what is best for the majority of students. No teacher who works there can truly look at the engagement rate of the students and think that it is acceptable. Or if they can, it is because they have heard the same refrain year after year and have some how internalized that message. (This is not to say that educators at ECOT do not work hard, they do, and the majority are not to blame for the failures of ECOT, though some are more complicit in inflated pass rates than others.)

    ECOT likes to parade success stories in their media postings, but those successes are such a small percentage of the overall. Of course a successful athlete or musician is doing well at ECOT, they already have the structures and support in place to achieve. Of course a bullied child from a middle class family is successful, the one issue that barred their success is gone. But many of the other children who attend have issues that simply having a school computer in their home cannot overcome. And oftentimes, being at home is a further hindrance to their learning, since their families and friends distract them from their work.

    The money spent on the behemoth that is ECOT would be much better put to use to support the public schools that are in operation. Money could be directed to support smaller classes, additional in class support for the vulnerable students, additional staff that are specialists in the issues faced by the communities the school resides in, and a host of other programs that would be preferable to a child staying at home each day in front of their computer screen (or in many cases, not in front of their school computer screen).

  • ecotPALS

    Just out of curiosity – How long did you teach there and when did you decide to leave?

  • Carman Dalek

    All Ohioans should be outraged by the massive racketeering operation hiding in plain sight that has been going on for more than a decade and a half with one William Lager, the founder of ECOT and CEO of Altair Learning Management, sitting at its apex. This man has made himself into a multi-millionaire in a way that many a snake oil salesman must envy, by skimming and then pocketing through his Altair management company and sister operation, IQ Innovations, millions upon millions of dollars in “management fees” from the funding that the state, paid for by taxpayers, gives to ECOT for its operations.

    As much as Lager and his advocates have claimed that ECOT is serving a need, namely students who cannot make it in a traditional classroom setting, state school performance data clearly shows that the vast majority of students who enroll at ECOT also struggle and fail, apparently faring no better than they did at their previous schools. Moreover, ECOT has shown little trend towards consistently improving its results from one year to the next throughout its entire history.

    ECOT is clearly a failure as a school, and should be shut down, but all its failure has meant for Lager is that he still receives millions of dollars in taxpayer money from the state of Ohio each year to funnel into real estate purchases for himself, like his condo at the swanky Miranova tower in Downtown Columbus, as well as his mansion in a tony Upper Arlington neighborhood. Lager continues to evade accountability, the very thing that school choice advocates claim has gone lacking in the leadership of traditional schools and districts, thanks to his generous donations to politicians in state government, again using the taxpayer money he receives and pockets through Altair.

    Should there ever be any wonder why Lager, his agents, including “ecotPALS” are vehemently protesting scrutiny by the state with regards to the money ECOT receives for its reported enrollment? Lager must realize his “gravy train” is at risk and will, of course, stop at nothing to see it continue. The problem is, as most con men do who become increasingly cocky and brazen the longer they evade being busted, he is clearly overplaying his hand, and in the process is undermining the facade of his great ECOT con. This, folks, is very likely the greatest scandal in the history of the State of Ohio. It is just waiting to be blown out into the open for all to see.

    At the same time, students, parents, and even the hundreds of truly well-intentioned teachers and staff that ECOT employs should not be held at fault for the reasons they sought out the school, whether for enrollment, support, or employment. All students deserve a high quality education, and the many educators that are passionate about kids and what they can achieve deserve a fighting chance to give them that education. They cannot be faulted for seeking out an alternative and trying to make it work. The problem rests in this case on the shoulders of William Lager who deceived so many of these people by promising them the moon and delivering marbles instead.

  • Carman Dalek

    Wow, an ECOT agent trolling people now. You guys have fallen to a new low. Way to set an example for the kids and families you claim to be so interested in helping out. William Lager’s true character is on display.

  • ecotPALS

    Sorry. call it exactly like I see it and it’s not trolling to respond to a drive by name caller. It’s called standing up for yourself. Seems like a good example to me but maybe I’m missing something.

  • ecotPALS

    Riveting. I can’t wait for your investigative op-ed on the deep dark secrets of the traditional school institutional system. Very creative… but when it comes to ECOT, it’s not really that complicated. Here it is in all of it’s simplicity. Ohio taxpaying families and students choose ECOT over other options because the school is better suited to meet their needs. Taxpayers take on no additional burden (actually save money) and only benefit right along side the ECOT student when he or she discovers a school choice that best fits their needs. You say ECOT needs to be shut down. OK, Let’s just make you captain schoolmaster for a second and and put your finger on the switch. What are you going to do with the 17,000 students, nearly 900 teachers and hundreds of administrators WHO CHOOSE ECOT every day? What will you tell them?

  • Carman Dalek

    Keep downplaying and distracting from the situation at hand as you must and are paid to do, but you know as well that the ECOT con is only as complicated as it need be to deflect all the necessary public attention and scrutiny from your con man in chief, William Lager.

    Lager’s most terrifying nightmare is that he will finally be made to answer in a court of law for what he has done. His ECOT con is coming under increased scrutiny now because enough people have continued to challenge and press through all of the spin and smokescreen you guys throw up around it to deflect attention away from the ugly truth, that ECOT fails far more students than it helps. You continue to try and block and undermine the very people who put kids first and who seek to alert others to the fact that they have been conned out of hundreds of millions of dollars of their own tax money to line William Lager’s pockets, all for a school that performs no better, and in many ways is even worse off than traditional schools.

    No, the issue is not whether or not online education can or should work as a matter of school choice. Some online schools DO work for some students. The problem here in Ohio is that ECOT specifically isn’t working for the vast majority of its enrolled students, and that William Lager needs to step aside, stop skimming off taxpayers money for himself and for his political favors, face the music, and allow for better solutions to emerge.

    Make no mistake. ECOT is not “too big to fail.” ECOT already HAS failed. William Lager is just trying very, very hard now to prop it up to keep his own gravy train flowing. Your posts are very much indicative of the extent of his desperation.

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