This blog post was co-authored by Padmini Jambulapati and Erin Dillon.
Part IV of a new blog series exploring data from Ohio e-schools. While online learning is still new to the vast majority of K-12 students and schools, Ohio has operated “e-schools,” public charter schools that operate entirely online and which students “attend” on a full-time basis, for a decade. As policy debates around online learning grow, what do we know about these schools–who do they enroll and how well do they perform–and what can we learn from Ohio’s e-school experience?
For the past two days we’ve presented maps showing where Ohio’s e-schools are getting their students. First, we looked at ‘statewide’ e-schools, which enroll students from hundreds of different school districts in Ohio and next we looked at a group of schools we call ‘regional’ e-schools because they draw students from only a handful of districts in one area of the state. Today, in our third and final map, we look at a group of schools we’re calling ‘local’ e-schools. Despite their status as virtual schools, these e-schools enroll 100 percent (or almost 100%) of their students from their host district. Collectively, these 11 schools serve just 910 students—3 percent of Ohio’s total e-school enrollment, with individual school enrollment ranging from 26 to 152.
The map below shows where each local e-school is getting its students. Each dot is a district that sends students to a particular e-school and the size of the dot represents the percent of the e-school’s enrollment coming from that district. Unlike yesterday’s or Tuesday’s maps, this map shows at most three dots for each school because these schools draw almost all of their students from just one district—the sponsoring school district. The dots are color-coded according to each school’s performance, with brown dots indicating schools that were unrated by the state because of low enrollment. You can hover over a dot to see detailed information and also select individual schools to see their enrollment patterns more clearly.
(Use the interactive features of the map to see which districts e-schools are drawing from—select a school by checking the box next to school’s name on the bottom left corner of the dashboard. To see only the schools that have a particular academic designation (i.e. only “effective”), select the color and click on the highlight button in the bottom right hand corner of the dashboard.)
Local districts opened many of Ohio’s local and regional e-schools in an attempt to keep students from leaving the district and taking their per-pupil funds with them. When e-schools first appeared in Ohio, a consortium of Ohio public school districts called TRECA (which now operates the statewide TRECA Digital Academy) encouraged districts to start their own e-schools to compete with the statewide operators, and provided help to districts in starting and operating the schools. All but one (Massillon Digital Academy) continue to partner with TRECA for curriculum, instruction and technical support. While on paper these schools may be local e-schools, drawing nearly 100% of their enrollment from one district, in practice their operations are similar to the larger regional and statewide schools that contract e-school management to an outside company.
Yesterday we described the combination of waivers and exemptions in Ohio state law that allows e-schools that are designated as drop-out prevention and recovery schools and are sponsored by a local school district to avoid some of Ohio’s accountability requirements, including mandatory closure for persistent low performance and accountability for the sponsoring district. Seven of the local e-schools fall into this category, creating a potential accountability shelter for these schools.
In contrast, accountability for e-schools that are not charter schools is more straight-forward. Much like the local charter e-schools, these schools enroll students from their host district and many partner with TRECA for curriculum, instruction and operational support. But because these e-schools remain part of the host district, the district is held accountable for the performance of all the students enrolled in the e-schools.
Not so for e-schools that have charter school status. These e-schools are technically a separate entity from their host district and therefore the sponsoring district may be exempted from accountable for their performance. Most disturbing is that this exemption is specifically targeted to schools serving students at risk of dropping out, and therefore most in need of a high-quality education. As Paul Hill said in this Education Next article on online learning, when it comes to holding online schools accountable for quality, “Almost every party involved with a poor kid who is about to drop out of school doesn’t want to turn that rock over.” The waivers and exemptions in Ohio make it easier for districts, the state and e-school sponsors to not turn over rocks.
Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the question of e-school size—is it better to be a small, local e-school or a big, statewide e-school? Ohio’s experience with e-schools of many different sizes provides some lessons for policymakers.