What does a judge’s ruling about a constitutional amendment in Florida have in common with television commercials aired recently about online schools in Ohio?
Answer: it’s not what’s stated in the proposed amendment and the TV promotional that’s important. Instead, it’s about what’s not disclosed in each.
The question then is why was an important word left out of both? Where Groucho Marx rewarded contestants for uttering “the magic word” on his TV show, we should recognize readers for being the first to figure out what key or magic word is being left out of commercials for some Ohio online schools.
Here is a newspaper account about the Florida constitutional amendment controversy:
Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled Monday that the amendment proposed by the Constitution Revision Commission is misleading and does not tell voters what it really does.
Amendment 8 combines several ideas into one amendment including term limits for school board members. But the amendment also makes it easier for charter schools to get set up around the state. Charter schools receive public money, but are run privately.
Cooper pointed out that the amendment does not even use the words charter schools but would affect their creation.
The lawsuit was filed by the League of Women Voters of Florida. It was one of several challenging amendments approved by the commission that meets every 20 years.
It’s appropriate that Judge Cooper’s ruling will provide added transparency and sunlight to allow the public to better observe and regulate the machinations of the charter school industry in the Sunshine State. Unfortunately, that same level of needed transparency and sunlight is not illuminating the activities of the online charter school industry in the Buckeye State, as the e-school folks work overtime to exploit opportunities for growth in Ohio in the wake of the ECOT implosion, which left thousands of parents scrambling to find a new school which they believe can meet their children’s particular needs.
In the past few weeks, Plunderbund observed the advertising campaigns of online charter school chains and examined several e-school websites to critique the scope of the information supplied for those exploring school options. In doing so, we identified the very issue that Florida Judge John Cooper observed, which led to his order halting the proposed state constitutional amendment measure.
Again, a certain magic word seems to be missing in the commercial messages and on the school’s website. For example, here are a few excerpts from the Ohio Connections Academy homepage:
• Ohio Connections Academy (OCA), a tuition-free public online school.
• Ohio Connections Academy is not just a fully accredited online school in Ohio.
• Ohio Connections Academy, a tuition-free, K–12 online public school, has a mission: to provide a personalized approach to education.
After an elusive search for that missing word, we decided not to ask for Judge Cooper’s help but, instead, move on and examine another online school’s website, that of the Ohio Virtual Academy, part of a large national online K12 Inc. [Hint: insert that missing magic word here] school chain. Here are a few excerpts from the homepage of OHVA.
• Ohio Virtual Academy is an innovative online school with passionate educators dedicated to inspiring and empowering students.
• Families do not pay tuition for a student to attend an online public school.
Yes, this all sounds quite familiar. Since we’re in the blame game era, thanks to Donald Trump, the judge’s ruling about the importance of a missing magic word reminded us of a similar warning we sounded well before key or magic words missing from proposed constitutional amendments were deemed to be of crucial importance.
In April 2015, Plunderbund first explored the issue of deceptive or misleading advertising practiced by some online charter schools. In the intervening three years, nothing seems to have changed. But the demise of ECOT has forced a reexamination of the issue, along with Judge Cooper’s landmark ruling. This is what we said more than three years ago:
Another online school ad, this one promoting Ohio Connections Academy, featured an engaging girl named Madison, informing viewers that she was first enrolled in Connections as a 7th grader and is now exploring her higher education options. In the commercial, Madison says that she “went to an online school, Connections Academy.” The ad ends with a summary statement: “Connections Academy, the tuition-free, online public school.”
Public school option. Tuition free. Online public school. To make sure that I was hearing these commercials accurately, I used the DVR to rewind and replay them several times to see if I’d missed something.
So what is it about the C-word? Judge Cooper held that the absence of the descriptor “charter school” was misleading:
Cooper pointed out that the amendment does not even include the words “charter schools” in its wording.
Cooper in his ruling stated that the “failure to use the term voters would understand” means that voters are not told the “chief purpose and effect of this proposal.”
In the same vein, what is it about charter school chains that don’t even use the word “charter school” in their media advertising and school homepages? Would some of us conclude that the failure to include the word charter school in advertising or on homepages is misleading? Answer: at least one judge in Florida thinks that way. The question is, when will others in Ohio agree?
As I watched the commercials for the online schools being run again for another school year, it reminded me of so-called charter school “reform” legislation in Ohio in 2016, which required charters to begin listing the names of their governing board members on the school website. What revolutionary reform the legislature is capable of producing! Snicker.
In the spirit of the judge’s ruling in Florida, can we expect the legislature, in another wave of reform, to soon require charter school advertising and charter school websites to disclose that they are, um, charter schools? We await the wisdom of the legislature on this matter as they consult Florida 2nd Judicial Circuit Judge John Cooper.
NOTE: The Ohio Department of Education website lists other online schools that are designated for statewide enrollment. Based upon the practice of the Ohio Connections Academy and Ohio Virtual Academy in not disclosing on their homepages that they are online charter schools, readers are invited to examine these other statewide e-schools to determine how they fully identify their status as charter schools.