Charter Schools

Cyber Charters Create Overwhelming Negative Impact

A just-released study conducted by three highly-regarded policy and research centers, including Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO), indicated that online schools have an “overwhelming negative impact,” with 70 percent of their students lagging behind their peers at traditional public schools.

Results showed significant shortfalls in both math and reading, with most cyber students losing 180 days of learning in math and 72 days in reading achievement in a typical school year of 180 days.

Other study collaborators were Mathematica Policy Research in Cambridge, Mass. and the University of Washington’s Center on Reinventing Public Education. All three organizations, as well as some advocacy groups, pointed to the need for more discussion about the role of online schools.

Massive Revenues for Charter Operators

Pennsylvania has more than 35,000 students enrolled in just 14 cyber schools and was among the states that was studied. Almost 11,000 of those students were enrolled in Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in 2011-12. This western Pennsylvania-based business is one of the largest online charter schools in the country and reported “revenues of $110 million and net assets of $57 million [which] resembles a mid-sized school district more, rather than an individual school,” according to the study’s authors.

Some online schools in the state contract with two of the largest for-profit management organizations in the U.S. One of them, Connections, a partner with Commonwealth Connections Academy in Harrisburg, has 8,800 students. The other one, K12 no longer provides management or other services for Agora and Pennsylvania Virtual, but still provides curriculum for those schools.

“With such high enrollment in a limited number of schools … a program that is lacking in quality may affect many thousands of students within one school and even more nationwide, especially if it is permitted to operate year after year with no accountability,” according to the Center for Reinventing Public Education.

Less Individualized Attention for Students

The study noted that cyber school students receive less individualized attention from their teachers because they are in classes that are larger than district or traditional charter schools. Another issue identified is the expectation that parents be highly engaged participants and attend training sessions to assist in their children’s education. Cyber principals reported that keeping students actively engaged was their biggest challenge since they can’t determine if pupils are in their seats.

All of Pennsylvania’s online schools failed to meet state benchmarks in 2013-14, the most recent year for which data was available. The state’s Department of Education has declared a moratorium on all applications for new cyber charter for three years.

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