If we really want to get to the bottom of whether ECOT did something underhanded to bilk the State of Ohio for millions of dollars, all it would take is someone with an understanding of Structured Query Language (SQL) and ECOT’s permission to access the read-only logs of their raw student data.
According to Herb Axilrod, the president of Birch Grove Software, creators of ActivTrak the software used by ECOT to track student activity; because the size of the school’s account they had their own server where the raw data was stored in an unalterable state.
To a layman, it would look like gobbledygook, but to someone with a journeyman’s level of training in SQL could easily decipher the data.
That means if ECOT did what the whistleblower known as E or ECOT Voice claims is true, it would be reflected in a disparity between the raw data and the reported data.
According to ECOT Voice, senior level leadership at ECOT was looking for a way to up their FTE student numbers by taking the data recorded by ActivTrak and run it through another piece of software called iQity created by a company owned by the founder of ECOT.
With iQity under the control of the people with a vested interest in the success of the school, ECOT Voice claims adjustments were made to how algorithms treated the raw data from ActivTrak.
According to Axilrod, ActivTrak will log what the user is looking at by documenting the window’s title. So if the student is online it will know which website they are looking at; if they are working on a paper like I am right now, it would log them as active in Microsoft Word.
Further, ActivTrak logs the duration a user is active in the current window. In ActivTrak a user is logged as idle after two minutes with no movement of the mouse or activity of keystrokes. As soon as the user becomes active again either by pressing a key, or using the scroll wheel on the mouse, or to click on something with the mouse, the user is no longer tracked as idle.
According to whistleblower ECOT Voice, ECOT originally set up their system to show a student was idle after 15 minutes of no keystrokes or mouse movement. They also claim that time frame was adjusted over the course of 2017 eventually there was just one big block being provided for students for the day; making it possible to log a lot of time when only a little happened at the beginning and the end of the day, according to ECOT Voice.
ECOT Voice says this allows for students to login in the morning, walk away from the computer for hours on end and come back to it at the end of the day, and they could still be logged in as an active user and a full time enrolled student.
Because the state pays for students on a full time enrollment status, this means the school could have students who were not actively learning being treated as if they were from a financial perspective, and that translates into millions of taxpayer dollars.
According to ECOT Voice:
“It remained ECOT’s claim that this was a fair way to report as they claimed that ODE just wanted a daily log-in/log-out. Similarly, ECOT also claimed that since the computer was given for academics, by definition all of the time on the computer was academic. (They also claimed that the blocking software would keep students from non-academic websites, etc. but that was never that reliable.) At intervals while this was being put together many people expressed that this was “too good to be true” that ODE would let ECOT get away with it, but the desire to save the school from what they believed was an onslaught of attack by ODE and others became the rationale for going after as much funding as possible.”
Whistleblower ECOT Voice is no fan of ODE. They don’t like what the department did to change how students were counted. With that said, they also told state school board member Stephanie Dodd:
“Oddly, I am one who would align myself with those who claim that the changes implemented by ODE toward on-line charter schools are not necessarily sound education policy, or good measure of whether students are being served. But I also do not condone a culture of knowing fabrication of unbelievable student participation results and rationalizing that the ethics of ODE justify the deception by ECOT.”
ECOT Voice has been trying to get the authorities attention with this for months. In an email to me they explained why they feel nothing has been done:
“Some prosecutors I talked with indicated that this type of “white collar” activity is out of their skill sets and resources, as well as they questioned whether they had jurisdiction. The Auditor’s office (which was aware) hasn’t acted so far. The Attorney General’s office was not approached because of advice that they were too political to expect due diligence.”
Some state officials are calling on the Franklin County Prosecutor to open a criminal investigation.
His office says this matter has not come across his desk and he has not spoken with ECOT Voice.
He is aware of the release of a report from the State Auditor which is expected May 1.
ECOT Voice says they have had multiple meetings with State Auditor’s teams and the office is aware of their claims.
We will find out if the Auditor’s office went as far to seek access to the read-only server with the raw data and break it down to check ECOT’s claims that their students were indeed as active as they say they were.
Ohio Gubernatorial Candidate Joe Schiavoni released this statement:
“Now that this has been brought to light, ECOT should immediately turn ActivTrak data over to ODE to prove they did nothing wrong.
“If they don’t, Prosecutor Ron O’Brien, Auditor Yost, and Attorney General DeWine need to use the power of their offices to get a subpoena for those records. Republican leaders in the Statehouse could use their subpoena powers as well.
“Ohio taxpayers deserve to know what’s been happening to hundreds of millions of their tax dollars. Students and teachers deserve to know if their funding has been gutted for illegitimate reasons. No more excuses. Let’s make it happen.”