The Cyber Charter School Option
Upper Darby, PA mom Michele Badders felt overwhelmed at the prospect of home schooling her daughter after having home schooled her older son. So she decided to try the Pennsylvania Distance Learning Charter School, a free, public cyber charter school where students take classes from home on a computer provided by the school.
Students learn through online sessions with a teacher and other students, independent assignments, and one-on-one time online or by telephone with teachers. “My daughter and I like the flexibility,” says Badders. “She can speed up or slow down when needed or challenged.”
According to the Keeping Pace report published by Evergreen Education Group, cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania served 24,603 students in grades K-12 during the 2009 to 2010 school year, an 11% increase from the 2008 to 2009 school year.
“School often helps with social skills,” says Frances Rust, EdD., director of the Teacher Education Program at the University of Pennsylvania. “Particularly for young children up to 3rd grade, cyber school is a difficult road to take because they miss out on peer group interaction, and developing successful relationships with their teachers can be difficult in the cyber world. If you’re going to use cyber school in the long-term, find ways to bring your child in touch with other children through extracurricular activities.”
Many cyber charter schools offer opportunities for students to interact in person through field trips, clubs and in other creative ways. For instance, Commonwealth Connections Academy recently introduced a mobile classroom that travels around the state, allowing students to participate in hands-on science activities and academic activities with teachers and other students.
“Often times the mobile classroom activities are held in conjunction with a field trip so that students can enjoy museums or kayaking on lakes and then do an experiment in the classroom, enhancing what they learned,” says Maurice Flurie, EdD, CEO of Commonwealth Connections Academy.
Who Are the Students?
Cyber charter students come from all walks of life, including:
- Kids whose parents travel
- Students who have been home schooled
- Children with health issues or disabilities
- Athletes, dancers and other kids who need a flexible schedule
- Older students with full-time jobs or who have their own children
Some exceptionally bright students attend cyber charters, but, “We have a high population of kids who have deficits in learning, particularly reading and math,” says Patricia Rossetti, principal of PA Distance Learning Charter School. “At the high school level, we get a lot of kids who may be older than their classmates and are giving education one more try.”
At the end of 2010, the ASPIRA Association opened the country’s first bilingual cyber charter school in Philadelphia to address the needs of area Spanish-speaking students. “A lot of our students were having trouble with bullying and violence. They were staying home because they were fearful of going to their regular school,” says administrator Michelle Dunaway.
Cyber charter schools are meeting the needs of many students, but they have faced criticism. Here are some things to consider before choosing a cyber charter.
- Young children will need a parent or another caregiver available for supervision and to facilitate computer usage.
- Only four of the 11 cyber charter schools operating in Pennsylvania in 2009-2010 met Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) measures, set forth by the federal No Child Left Behind Act, that evaluates attendance, graduation rate, academic performance and test participation. Proponents of cyber charter schools attribute these scores to the high number of students with learning deficits who turn to cyber schools because traditional school isn’t meeting their needs.
- Think about your child’s future goals. The military allows only 10 percent of recruits to be graduates of non-traditional high schools. Many cyber charter school graduates do go on to higher education, including four-year colleges.
- Most cyber charter schools have open enrollment all year long. Students can enroll online on a school’s website or by contacting the school by phone or in person.
- “Cyber school is not dramatically different education,” says Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform. “When this country started, much of education was on a person’s own, sitting, reading and figuring things out.”
Susan Stopper is a contributing writer to MetroKids.