State funding is gone and no longer supports the web resource for teachers to locate high-quality online lessons

Since 2007, an online clearinghouse has helped Ohio educators choose well-designed online lessons from a vast marketplace of products and has made them available free. Next school year, however, schools will be on their own because the state’s Distance Learning Clearinghouse is going away.

Its funding support, through the state Education and Higher Education departments, has disappeared. Even though state law still authorizes the clearinghouse, lawmakers included no Education Department funding for it. And, although the budget included funds for the Department of Higher Education that could support the clearinghouse, that department opted to spend it on other things, saying the clearinghouse hasn’t lived up to expectations.

Philip Wagner, superintendent of Licking Heights School District, considers the looming shutdown “almost a crisis, really.” His 4,000-student district is growing fast but remains too small to have a large staff to develop curriculum or evaluate what’s available online. That has been the value of the clearinghouse, he said; not only pointing teachers and others toward online lessons to fit state academic standards, but providing an Ohio-specific seal of approval.

“We have limited resources, and it has enabled us to scale up our program,” Wagner said. He estimated that someone from Licking Heights uses something from the clearinghouse almost every day.

Ohio State University, which operates the clearinghouse, stopped adding new lessons in November and has been doing minimal maintenance, without dedicated funding, since then. From July 2010 through June 2014, Ohio State received a total of $1 million per year to run the program; in the 2014-15 fiscal year, funding dropped to $500,000.

Funding paid for about 15 people to evaluate and choose content and maintain the system. Most of those people have been moved to other jobs or laid off.

University officials are just starting to get the word out to K-12 schools and other universities that the clearinghouse will end this summer. More than 475,000 users have visited it since July 1, which is ahead of the previous school year’s pace.

Janet Herrelko, a math-education professor at the University of Dayton, helped stock the clearinghouse with math lessons. She knows how many substandard products are out there, and she hates to think of educators choosing on their own.

“They’ll have to go to Google and try to do their own review,” Herrelko said. “It will take a lot longer for them to understand it. If you try to skim this material, you could miss problems with it.”

The clearinghouse was in the news recently when ProgressOhio, a liberal advocacy group, charged that officials of Gov. John Kasich’s administration used the program to steer a contract toward William Lager, founder of the Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow charter school and a major Republican donor. Another Lager-owned company, IQ, was hired to provide an online interface for the program and was paid $1.2 million to make it work with the clearinghouse. Critics said the IQ interface didn’t work well and that most users bypassed it.

Ohio State officials have taken no position on the elimination of funding for the clearinghouse, calling it a matter for state policymakers. But last fall, when the university received notice that funding would not continue, a document prepared by the College of Education estimated that 82 percent of Ohio’s schools and districts have used the resource in some way. It said that the clearinghouse included more than 12,000 lessons in key subject areas, more than 950 reviews of online courses and more than 1,000 professional-development lessons for teachers.

It called the clearinghouse “a valuable component of the state’s educational infrastructure.”

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