November 2015 Newsletter

As we wind down American Education Week, let’s continue to celebrate the fact that public schools have made America great! Learn more about current challenges and what you can do to help, and let your voice be heard in the halls of Washington and Harrisburg.

Cyber Charter School Students Lag Behind Dramatically –
“Overwhelming Negative Impact” Cited in National Study

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.

For continuously updated news about charters and other issues of importance to public education in the region, visit our Facebook page. And make it a priority to let your state legislators know your perspective on cyber charter schools.

Limit Standardized Testing, Reauthorize ESEA

The Obama administration recently announced it wants to cap the amount of time public school students spend taking standardized tests. This is great news for students, parents and educators who have long argued that preparing for and taking high-stakes standardized tests actually hurt efforts to provide a well-rounded education. And that makes sense when you realize that under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) passed in 2002, some students have been required to take as many as 112 standardized tests between K-12. That has taken time away from enriching programs and activities such as gym, foreign languages and trips that used to be considered part of the core curriculum. Schools have also been punished for results that don’t really measure learning.

Lessening these requirements will return the power to teachers who actually know the individual students, their educational needs, and how best to meet them. It will enable educators to focus on broader lessons that build natural curiosity, critical thinking and problem-solving skills, not just a few content areas that are easily tested.

Now is the time to implement these changes because for the first time since 2001, Congress is working on a bipartisan overhaul of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). This provides an opportunity to reduce the federal government’s role in public education, giving states more flexibility and students more time for quality learning and a chance to return to enriching curriculums that are not so singularly focused.

What Are Our Goals for Reauthorization?

  • Reduce Standardized Testing. NCLB more than doubled the number of high-stakes tests in reading and math.
  • Allow Teachers to Teach.Teachers need to be permitted to focus on what is most important: student learning and achievement.
  • Collect Data on Students’ Access to Resources. Data collection should focus on identifying whether students have access to programs and resources that support learning, such as the availability of advanced coursework, high-quality early education programs, and specialized instructional personnel.
  • Properly Allocate Resources.In Pennsylvania, there is a school funding crisis, which has hit our poorest school districts the hardest. The federal government must uphold its responsibility to ensure equal educational opportunity and provide every child with a chance for success.

What Can You Do About It?

Contact your federal legislators and tell them to finish ESEA now.

Above and Beyond

Our last newsletter introduced a new section about teachers who go above and beyond to help students who are carrying an extra load for dozens of reasons. They may be homeless, a parent may be ill, or a child may be having trouble adjusting to a new school or community. We all know teachers and other professionals who, in addition to giving their all in the classroom and school every day, make the extra effort to help children whose situation is impeding their chances for success.

We’d like to spotlight their determination and thank them for their incredible dedication and commitment to the children in our community. Please share your own stories and those of others who do so much to improve their students’ lives and chances for success.

Simply visit the contact us page of our website and provide the name of the teacher, school and district, his/her special act of giving, the time frame, why s/he decided to step in, and what s/he did to help. The student’s name would remain confidential so there is no need to include it in your submission. We’ll be in touch if we need further details.

Then look for stories in future issues of the newsletter and on our Facebook page.

Share the Magic of Reading Together

With the holidays fast approaching, you may be thinking about favorite books to buy for the young people in your life. Check out the li
st of 38 perfect books to read aloud with kids and let us know what you would add to the list!

Kid-Friendly Websites

Smithsonian Kids – From air and space, to dinosaurs and animal cams, the Smithsonian site for children is jam-packed with educational and interesting information and activities for kids of all ages across a wide spectrum of interests.

American Association of School Librarians – It’s a sure bet that librarians can point you in the direction of websites that provide innovative and creative ways for teachers and students to actively engage and collaborate.

Spatullata – This site teaches children how to cook with kid-friendly recipes, basic cooking skills, creative projects and videos.