Sunday, September 03, 2000

Electronic classroom offers curriculum via the Internet

By Andrea Tortora
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Crystal Caldwell is banking on technology to get her into hieroglyphics.

        The 15-year-old Middletown home-schooler thinks the technology of the Internet will help her gain entry to the rarefied academic sanctum of Brown University's Egyptology program.

[photo] Mary Jane Palmer (left) has enrolled her granddaughter Crystal Caldwell in the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, an Internet school.
(Dick Swaim photo)
| ZOOM |
        Eager to gain admission to Brown, Crystal was looking for a way to supplement the curriculum provided by her grandmother, Mary Jane Palmer.

        So, Crystal has enrolled in the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow.

        “We needed a little bit of help because there are some things we couldn't do, like math,” Crystal said. “I would like it if someone were there to show me how to do it.”

        The electronic classroom, or ECOT, will give Crystal and Mrs. Palmer access to a full high school curriculum, as well as teachers and other students.

        “They don't set you up with just a machine,” Crystal said. “You get a teacher.”

        ECOT, a nonprofit, statewide Ohio charter school that holds all classes on the Internet, is designed to serve students ages 4 to 22.

        Nearly 500 students have enrolled, about 100 from Cincinnati. Those who attend get a free computer to use at home. If they graduate, they get a real high school diploma, not just a GED.

  • For information about ECOT — the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, call 1-888-326-8395 or go online at
        Because the school is a charter, students can attend for free. ECOT will receive $4,300 from the state for each student enrolled.

        ECOT also received $4 million in funding from Compaq Computers, Xerox Corp. oration and Sprint Telecommunications.

        Altair Learning created and manages the school, which is chartered through the Lucas County Educational Service.

        Starting this month, students will receive their computers and a combination printer/scanner/fax machine at orientation sessions held throughout the state. ECOT will also pay for a dedicated phone line to be installed at the student's home.

        “We want to provide educational opportunities for students who can't get it in a brick-and-mortar school,” said John Ledingham, an ECOT education consultant and Capital University professor.

        “This is not designed for everyone.”

        ECOT is one of a growing number of online schools offering education alternatives to students.

        The Western Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Midland, Pa., offers K-12 classes that can lead to a high school diploma or GED through a partnership with The school has 250 students and plans to expand to 52 school districts in 17 Pennsylvania counties.

        Kentucky created a statewide virtual high school last year that enables students to supplement their high school classes with courses not offered at their home school. More than 2,000 students are enrolled.

        Ohio's ECOT will hire state-certified teachers and will offer state-recognized high school diplomas. Special education services will also be provided.

        Crystal and Mrs. Palmer think ECOT will work well for them. But Mrs. Palmer had to be convinced before agreeing to enroll her granddaughter. She was worried about isolation for the teen. How would Crystal learn to interact with others?

        ECOT encourages students to do some of their learning at museums and other cultur al centers. Mr. Ledingham said ECOT officials also hope students will get together in person after talking together in online chat rooms about what they are studying.

        “Crystal really, really wants to focus on learning, but she has some health problems and she would get very distracted with what goes on in class when other students act up,” Mrs. Palmer said.

        Mrs. Palmer wanted to be sure ECOT's academic focus was in line so she consulted a teacher at Middletown High who said the online curriculum was in line with state standards.

        “I'm really excited about this because I have a high school diploma and there are some things you forget and some things maybe you didn't learn or are different now,” Mrs. Palmer said. “This will really reinforce me.”

        ECOT is following state requirements down to immunizations: Crystal even has to send in copies of her shot records to enroll.

        But the school could not immediately get a charter from the state. State Board of Education members had concerns about how such schools would handle their money and meet student needs.

        Rather than wait for state approval, ECOT officials went to the Lucas County Educational Service Center because charters can also be started by a local school district. ECOT's finances will still be audited by the state.

        Mr. Ledingham said flexibility makes ECOT special.

        A child with great math ability can move ahead at his own pace. An adult who wants to finish her high school diploma can do so at home after work.

        That flexibility is what attracted Crystal.

        “It's an opportunity like home schooling but with none of the downfalls,” Crystal said. “I can get credit and a diploma.

        “I can go out and interact with other students and not be a hermit. And if something comes up, you can take the work with you and work 24 hours a day.”

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