Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Out There in Cyber-Space

Cyber-schools are a relatively new concept, but I doubt they will ever totally replace brick-and-mortar public schools. In the last three days, I have read several reports on cyber-charter schools that are not only doing a poor job of instructing, but are spending exorbitant amounts of money on CEO salaries, advertising, and supporting other schools outside their jurisdiction. In addition, some cyber-charter operators are seemingly involved in fraudulent tactics of record keeping. In the state of Pennsylvania, we have two cases in front of the courts now, that may only be the tip of the cyber-iceberg.

In a recent case in Philadelphia, a cyber-charter was operating in a brick-and-mortar school building as a regular charter school. This is totally against their contract with the state. To add insult to injury, the school was operating in a building where they shared space with a rehab program for pedophiles. Needless to say, their charter was not renewed and the school had to cease and desist, sending their students scrambling for a spot elsewhere.

In another case, the 10,000 student, PA Cyber-Charter School’s CEO was accused of funneling funds into businesses with which he was closely connected and reaping personal funds from multiple sources -money that was supposed to go for instruction of students.

In a third case, the CEO of the Agora Cyber Charter School was accused of masking the outflow or churn rate of the students to reap more money from the school districts that funded the cyber charter. A few years in a row, about 1/3 of the students dropped out of the program but were still listed as enrolled at Agora. State law is very specific when they mandate that a student should be dropped after they have missed 10 days straight. A special ed student, for whom they receive additional money from the district, was kept on the roll for 140 days. The state is also investigating the cyber giant, K-12 because of the staggering dropout rate in the schools that use that program.

Yet another PA cyber school was investigated when it was discovered that most of the students had dropped out and its teachers had not been paid. But the school was being funded by school districts from around the state, for the entire year. Where had the money gone? Incredibly, this cyber-school’s charter was renewed, believe it or not.

Most telling, however, is the fact that none of Pennsylvania’s charter schools made AYP last year and most of them scored below the low-scoring public schools. Indeed, in charter-land, only 20% of the schools made AYP, three times less than regular public schools who made AYP.

Because of the high turnover and the high pupil-teacher ratio, students in cyber charters whose parents are not highly motivated, typically score at least a year behind grade level. In my experience with 5 cyber-school dropouts, they were two years behind in both reading and math.

I won’t even get into the unfair funding of the cybers, I’ll leave that for anoth4er time.

I do understand that some kids need the cyber school – those with medical problems, emotional problems, those may have been bullied – and I am glad that the programs can be there for them. But PA has the most students, percentage-wise, in cyber charters and what are they doing for the kids?
Not much.

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