eCot – Is it Homeschooling? by Sue Duncan
I have been following eCOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow – an Ohio public school online) since it made an application for a charter with Lucas County, having been initially denied by the State Board of Education. The 83-page application is instructive in itself and specifically targets several populations, prominent among these is home educators…students they refer to as “disenfranchised from traditional public education option. …It seems that follow-up or performance profiling ceases to exist when parents make the decision to home school their children or when students decide to drop out of school. Parents who exercise their right to home school their children, for whatever reason, find themselves almost completely shut off from any state support. The state in turn finds itself with little or no tracking or performance data with which to identify, understand, or assist this increasing student segment.” (Page 5/Application). They go on: “More research is needed and will be conducted by eCOT consultants. Further, numerous one-on-one surveys of home school parents has discovered that many of these parents feel alienated from Ohio’s educational systems and are left to their own devices in educating their children. A feeling of being completely without support is common among these parent/student segments. ” (Page 8/Application)
These kind of statements by eCOT illustrate a great deal of misunderstanding of home education, the history of the movement here in Ohio, and what it means to families who pursue it; it does not demonstrate an understanding of accountability and responsibility undertaken by homeschooling parents. It does not give credit for the hard work, effort, time and focus we may expend in forming and supporting our communities, nor in their accomplishments. eCOT comments about surveys and discussions, yet I have been unable to come across one homeschooler who was approached despite extensive querying throughout the state. Neither was this data appended to their application. Surely, their surveys would have included parents who felt neither the need nor the inclination to seek or expect state support; indeed, leaving the system in order to remove themselves from that authority.
Many in the media, on homeschooling lists, and elsewhere are touting this as home education. Look very closely and buyer beware! This is certainly another option…another educational choice, but it is not home education. It is a government online school which happens to be located in your home. You may squeeze your eyes tightly and click your heels three times but it does not change the fact that eCOT-ers must comply with public school imperatives including enrollment, which automatically dissolves homeschooling status. Legally, you are not a homeschooler. You must comply with state-mandated learner outcomes and goals, a state model curriculum driven by required Ohio Proficiency Testing. There are required in-home teacher visits. Students will have an IEP and an electronic student profile so that students may be monitored and tracked. Further, eCOT touts “virtual socialization, ” stunning to me given all that homeschoolers have faced in this regard, and though they make references to parental involvement, this is certainly not what most home educators would recognize as the traditional homeschooling parental control of the education process. Remember, eCOT requires that you follow state goals, curriculum model, assessments; how much parental control might you have if you decide you wish to pursue something in lieu of the required goals or outcomes, especially as this is an assessment-driven option. In homeschooling, parental control doesn’t end with the choice, it begins. And, THAT is a distinction with a difference.
Since this is a public government school, there is no tuition; and every two students per home will receive a computer terminal, peripherals and modem line, teacher support (ratio-40:1 per their application), plus all other curriculum materials. (The projected cost of the computer and peripherals is $600/per student.)
But, you should be a wise consumer of such choices; visit their website: www.ecotohio.org and ask your questions on their egroups list (www.egroupscom/group/ecotohio), but be careful. One parent upon asking about enrolling in eCOT for homeschooling was advised that eCOT would take care of everything and enroll her, never once advising her of the fact that she was not enrolling in a homeschooling program but a publicly-funded online school. One parent was told by Coletta Musick, the Supt. of eCOT, that there was no log-in procedure for attendance while Musick told a newspaper reporter that “Logging on is our taking attendance.” Students will log onto the website every day. I am not suggesting that eCOT is purposely misleading home educators; I am saying that they lack a clear understanding of home education, the homeschooling regulations, the notification process and therefore, are confusing the two options by recommending this for those “seeking help for your home school student… ” and similar marketing tactics.
Check out CHEO’s position paper on charter schools such as eCOT whom they refer to as a “Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing,” (www.cheohome.org) or the eCOT fact sheet from the Ohio Home Education Coalition on HSN’s website, www.hsncincy.com. You might also choose to read the article on the CPS Survey of Homeschoolers at HSN’s website, Sept/Oct. 2000 _Home Education Magazine_ , Taking Charge column entitled: “Homeschoolers; Is Our Good Name for Sale?” (http://www.home-ed-magazine.com/HEM/175/tch.html), and two by Chris Cardiff, _The Third Great Lie_, and _Seduction of Homeschooling Families_, which detail the problems for homeschoolers of government handout programs. (http://people.netscape.com/ccardiff/seduction.html and greatlie.html) For further reading on preserving homeschooling freedoms, try: Foundations Of Freedom -Social Policy, Research, Legislation, (http://www.home-emagazine.com/INF/free_index.html).
Make no mistake: the issue here is not about support for those choosing eCOT. That is a separate matter for another discussion and I am NOT suggesting that these families do not deserve or should not find assistance with their support groups, and/or create and join in field trips, or activities, take classes and the like.
As a homeschooler who remembers the pre-regulations days, I don’t want this new option confused with home education; I do not wish the lines blurred by the media, or by the public education system, or by those joining just to take advantage of the freebies, or by would-be homeschoolers misunderstanding eCOT, or by eCOT themselves, implied or overtly. There are ramifications for those of us who are home educating without these government supports or handouts. eCOT is dangerous for home educators if they are not vigilant about the distinctions. I refer you back to the opening paragraph, wherein eCOT suggests “follow-up performance or profiling” and “little or no tracking or performance data” as serious issues for the state with respect to homeschoolers; they leveraged this accountability bias of bureaucrats when shopping this idea around the state. This particularly concerns me given the state’s interest of late in what it terms “accountability” of all learners in Ohio and in light of the new Standards being reviewed by the State Board of Education. eCOT provides the Ohio Department of Education with a model for bringing home educators “back to the fold.” It is, in fact, an intended consequence of eCOT.
Some have suggested that eCOT is “home education” since it takes place in the home setting. There is a traditional model in the mind of the public (and the public education bureaucracy) of what constitutes a home educator or homeschooler. For the most part, those two terms are interchangeable. They represent autonomy and freedom of choice; complete control of the education process by the parent/s. This is surely not what eCOT offers, nor can it. It is a government school which must comply with all attendant regulations and requirements. For example, immunizations.
Further, when families choose to home educate, they file a notification of intention to home educate and they receive an excuse from compulsory attendance. All this is in accordance with the Ohio Administrative Code Section 3301-34, Rules for Excuses from Compulsory Attendance for Home Education. And, within the Regulations themselves, home education is defined: ” ‘Home education’ means education primarily directed and provided by the parent or guardian of a child under Division (A) (2) of Section 3321.04 of the Revised Code which child is of compulsory school age and is not enrolled in a nonpublic school.” (OAC 3301-34-01(b)) The term “home education” is used by the state, as well, to describe this particular educational option. It is inaccurate, inappropriate and misleading to represent eCOT as home education or homeschooling, when clearly, in terms of legalities and public perception, it is not.
I am not slamming the choice. Indeed, I think options are good things and eCOT serves an important purpose for ITS families for many different reasons: financing, academic support, safety, health reasons, for example. But in terms of responsibility and accountability, control belongs to the public system. I am asking that the distinctions be clearly marked and understood. They do make a difference. And, for homeschoolers, that difference is critical.
What You Can Do:
(1) Be a wise consumer. Check out the option carefully. Visit the resources provided for information. Talk with eCOT and homeschoolers. Be clear about the distinctions.
(2) Respond to media misinformation directly. Write letters to the editor of newspapers and television/radio reports that mischaracterize this option as home education.
(3) Question eCOT directly: media reports, eCOT’s website and egroups list, marketing and advertising materials, eCOT town hall discussions, public outlets where eCOT is being marketed, discussed, etc.
(4) Write or contact eCOT directly and dispute their use of home schooling or home education references in their advertising, on the e-groups site, in their media releases and web search references. It is NOT homeschooling legally and their linkage of the two is inappropriate and misleading.
(5) Dispute the use of references to home schooling or home education by the public or the public education system. Again, this is NOT home education/homeschooling; inappropriate use of these terms leads to misunderstanding and confusion. The distinctions should be clear and understandable for home educators and those choosing eCOT.
(6) Write to your state legislators (House and Senate) expressing concern as a taxpayer for potential corporate profits to be realized by eCOT’s for-profit management group. Generally, charter schools funds are returned in some manner for reinvestment in the district; not so with eCOT. Question the profit scheme and budget surpluses projected.
(7) Understand that eCOT drafts school funds from your district, too. Former home educators who choose eCOT were not previously included in their district’s ADM (count for funding), but now districts will be charged $4300/pupil (state/local funding) for these students.
Submitted by Sue Duncan – Do not reprint for publication or distribution without prior permission
P.S. One might ask: if you use eCOT for the freebies, may you still call yourself a homeschooler since in your heart of heart you’re really just doing it for the good deals, or the curriculum, or the computer, or the diploma or the teacher support…or hey, after all, it is in your home? If this is such a good deal, why not call it what it is and be proud to be an eCOTer?