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What are cyber charter schools?
Cyber charter schools are online schools granted a charter by the state in which they operate. At present twenty-seven states have cyber charters. The largest number of cyber charter schools is in the state of Pennsylvania. All are approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education. Almost all are run under a contract with either K12 Inc. or Connection Education (a subsidiary of Pearson Education).
How do they teach students?
Most cyber charters are run exclusively online using a curriculum provided by one of companies contracted to run the cyber school. In many cases, computers are provided to students and internet access cost is often included after registration takes place. Any books or materials needed to complete coursework are shipped to the student’s home at the beginning of the school year. Students living anywhere in the state can apply to the cyber charter. Although certified teachers check assignments and give grades, many cybers require that the teachers use the tests provided by the company they work for. One on one discussion via internet is available when needed. In Pennsylvania, most of the cyber charters have parents agree to be at home when the child is completing class work. The parent is considered a learning coach in this situation.
Why choose a cyber charter?
Many parents in rural areas do not have many options for their children’s education. If a student’s needs are not being met in a rural regional school district a cyber charter might be the only other option available. Some parents do not feel that the public school their child would attend is a safe environment and all openings in a brick and mortar charter school may be filled so they enroll in a cyber charter. In some cases, parents who home school through eighth grade feel that they are not equipped to teach high school math and science, so they opt for a cyber charter.
What is the educational track record of cyber charters?
For the most part test scores for cyber charters are low. There is a high rate of students leaving during the school year. There is also a low graduation rate for those attending cyber charter schools.
What is the cost for a child to attend a cyber charter?
Technically, cyber charters cost less per pupil because there is no overhead for a brick and mortar building. In addition, since the teachers tend to be more record keepers than teachers their pay is lower as are their benefits. Most of the per pupil cost seems to go into the computers that are provided free of charge, any print materials that are needed for the educational program selected and for advertising to recruit new students.
Are cyber charters a good value for the cost to a school district?
At first glance it would seem that cyber charters would be a good cost effective option in school choice. They cost less money, parents are directly involved in their child’s education, and the children are safe within their own homes while learning. This may be a win for an individual family who wants what is best for their children but it comes at a high price to the school district losing the funding. A major concern is that in addition to the money paid to K12 Inc. and Connections Education for equipment and educational services taxpayer money is also being used to pay for marketing of the charter school. For example, one cyber charter school in Pennsylvania (Agora Charter School) has been running television ads since August encouraging enrollment for the current school year. Because they state that their program is individualized a student can easily enroll at any point in the school year, taking the money that was budgeted for their education from their home district. Considering the attrition rate of cyber charter students there is also a problem with the return of money to the sending school district when a student leaves during the school year.
When I think of school choice, I think of students getting the help that they need in the best environment for them. One issue I have with cyber charters is that they are not actually available to all students in a state. If both parents in a family have to work, their child cannot succeed in a cyber charter. In addition, the high attrition rate, the high drop-out rate and low test scores at cyber charters suggest that they should have as much oversight as traditional public schools.
I would love to hear from any teachers who are working for or have worked for a cyber charter school. Leave your experiences in the comments following this article.