Guest blogger: Truth in advertising needed for charter schools
Posted on 08/31/16 in Education & Training
Drug company ads are required to include a long list of possible side effects. Investment firm advertising includes disclaimers warning investors of risks.
Many products and services are required to provide information to help consumers make informed decisions.
Isn’t it time charter schools in Ohio were required to do something similar? Isn’t it time that publicly funded (yet for-profit companies), responsible for something as important as the education of our children, be required to demonstrate certain measures of effectiveness when they advertise? When considering the long-term implications related to the education of a child, don’t parents deserve to know some facts before making a decision based on a television commercial?
Last year the Ohio School Boards Association added a couple planks to its legislative platform addressing this issue. It asked lawmakers to consider the following:
- Requiring a charter/community school receiving public tax dollars to disclose performance metrics in all advertising, including but not limited to, the overall performance index and four-year graduation rate, and/or
- Prohibiting a charter/community school from advertising if that school does not meet or report minimum academic and/or financial standards established by the State of Ohio.
Two huge online schools in Ohio exemplify the need for such legislation.
A 2012 investigation of advertising budgets of charter schools estimated that K-12 Inc., a national firm that operates the Ohio Virtual Academy (OVA), spent more than $20 million on advertising in 2012. Television commercials for the Ohio Virtual Academy were still airing in Ohio during the 2013-14 school year. Nowhere in those commercials did OVA mention a four-year (i.e. on-time) graduation rate of 34 percent in 2013-14, or that the NCAA will not accept credits from its school due to poor academic results.
This year, central Ohio’s airwaves are carrying numerous ads for ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow). ECOT’s communications budget was reported at $11 million in 2015 — along with a graduation rate of 38 percent. According to The New York Times: “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. For every 100 students who graduate on time, 80 do not.”
In a May 2014 article, Doug Livingston of the Akron Beacon Journal wrote, “Collectively, these two charter schools (ECOT and OVA) have a dropout rate 45 times higher than traditional public schools in Ohio, and 10 times higher than the state’s eight largest city school districts.”
Obviously, that critical information is not shared with people who watch TV or listen to the radio.
Earlier this year State Senator Joe Schiavoni, a Democrat from Boardman, included language about regulating charter school advertising in a bill designed to make online schools more accountable on a few different levels. Unfortunately, SB 298 was not assigned to the Senate Education Committee, where Republican Chair Peggy Lehner promised to give it fair hearings.
Ohio’s legislators must do something to better inform parents — and students — about their alternative education choices and protect them from misleading advertising. They also owe it to Ohio’s taxpayers to make sure public money earmarked for education gets into the classroom, where it was originally intended to go and is sometimes desperately needed.
Terry is vice president of the North Olmsted City Schools Board of Education.