Cyber Schooling in the Lehigh Valley
By: Tamara Kells
April 10, 2012
Pennsylvania is one of the growing numbers of states offering free cyber (virtual) charter choices to parents. The virtual schools are considered public school, and thus, receive funding from tax payers.
Some school district unions exaggerated the amount of funding lost to public schools. The fact is that cyber schools represent a small fraction of school spending, getting only about $8,000 per student per year. Public schools are losing only one half of one percent of their education dollars to cybers.
Traditional homeschoolers were at first leery of enrolling their children into a home version of what they perceive to be a failed public school system. Others were afraid they’d lose their flexibility.
Many cyber schools paid attention to those concerns, and ensured parents that their children would be receiving a quality education; they also learned to be flexible with their schedules and homeschoolers began to enroll their children. Alternately, parents who never believed that they could teach their child at home now have an alternative to expensive private or parochial schools.
Of course, there are homeschool purists who don’t consider parents utilizing a public school as truly “homeschooling”. While technically that’s correct, many cyber fans point out that curriculum can be expensive. They’re paying school taxes in addition to purchasing school supplies. To many, it’s a win-win.
There’s a lot of speculation about what cyber schools provide. Basically, it’s school – in a box. Students receive computers, scanners and printers, along with items such as science kits, art supplies, books, paper and pencils. Of course, the computers and books must be returned when they are no longer enrolled. Additionally, students are assigned teachers and counselors. Parents, however, are still the main supervisor and act as the eyes and ears of the teachers.
At first, public schools railed against the cyber schools – to no avail. Each year, the number of cyber schooled children and teens have gone up. Perceived sub-standard education is often cited as the reason for disgruntled parents to look elsewhere. Some point to bullying in schools; and the limited remedies the bullied student has. In fairness to schools, they’re beginning to take bullying seriously. However, in an age where many parents expect the schools to be responsible for their children, school officials toil under a very real threat of lawsuits. This plays a large part in how schools are able to address these problems.
Other parents complain about overly sensitive drug policies, such as calling a Tylenol a “drug”. Alternately, parents are upset that guidance counselors are handing out condoms at some schools, and providing family counseling to their children without parental consent. The list, of course, is long and varies from family to family. Whatever the reason, however, cyber schools are flourishing.
And apparently, are here to stay.
Public schools, however, are pointing to substandard AYP (annual yearly progress) in some cyber schools. In fact, according to PA Department of Education (and reported in the Times Leader), the 2009-2010 school year showed that only 4 out of 11 cyber school were making adequate progress. Cyber schools have taken these statistics seriously, and are cracking down on student grades. They’ve also pointed out that most schools in PA can only point to adequate yearly progress.
So what’s a smart school district to do? If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.