Cyber Schools Under Unfair Attack

Learning RevolutionLast week, a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article on Pennsylvania’s cyber schools advanced some common myths and omitted some critical facts about how these popular schools do academically, and how they are funded. The paper published my letter to the editor, which reveals the facts and attempts to unring the cyber school myth bell:

Eleanor Chute’s July 19 story “Report Criticizes Progress at Cyber Charter Schools” cites a new University of Colorado study showing that students in public cyber schools using education provider K12 Inc. programs are “falling behind.” However, the article and study neglect important facts on Pennsylvania performance and funding.

While cyber schools are similar to school districts in both size and age groups served, they are assessed at a higher standard than school districts because of a flaw in Pennsylvania’s education assessment system. To make adequate yearly progress, districts need to meet performance goals for only one age group, whether elementary, middle or high school. In contrast, individual schools including cyber schools must meet AYP standards overall, or they fail.

Moreover, Ms. Chute repeats an error advanced by the Colorado researchers and state Auditor General Jack Wagner that asserts cyber schools spend less per student than traditional public schools and therefore should get less funding. But cyber schools spend less because they receive less.

When a child leaves his home school district for a cyber school, a portion of the funding allotted to his education “follows” him to the new school. But by law, cyber schools receive only a fraction of school districts’ per-student spending. The rest remains with the district.

Ultimately, Pennsylvania parents are the best judges of what their children need. That’s why Keystone State families have embraced educational choices and grown enrollment in cyber schools from zero to more than 32,000 today. The real lesson of cyber schools is that we can provide students an effective education that also saves taxpayers money, two factors neglected in Ms. Chute’s dispatch.

You can read more about how cyber schools work and provide Pennsylvania students a quality education in our comprehensive report, The Learning Revolution.