Cyber School Basics

What are cyber charter schools?

Charter schools are public, tuition-free schools open to all students. They are held to state academic and financial reporting standards, but they have more flexibility than district schools in terms of curriculum, school calendar, length of school day, and teacher qualifications. More importantly, charter schools are answerable to parents, who can remove their children if the school doesn’t meet their needs.

Cyber charter schools are charter schools that deliver instruction over the internet, allowing students to attend classes from home. Since 87% of Pennsylvania districts have no brick and mortar charter schools, cyber charters are the only tuition-free option available to many families.

What is the difference between cyber charter school and “remote learning” from your school district?

Cyber charter schools have been educating kids remotely for years. Their platforms and methods have been refined year after year based on the experience of teachers and students throughout the state. Their teachers have been specifically trained in virtual teaching methods, which are often quite different than in-person methods. Moreover, cyber charters provide all needed materials—computers, printers, books, art and science supplies, and an internet stipend.

Districts typically have less experience with virtual learning than cyber charters because it’s not their primary model. While some districts offered cyber options before the pandemic, many scrambled for solutions in the wake of school closures. Even those with cyber programs don’t necessarily provide computers, printers, and internet stipends.

It comes down to the difference between a cyber “program” and a full-fledged cyber school. The cyber school is typically much more robust. That’s why students at cyber charters were generally able to continue their education without significant disruptions during the pandemic this spring.

What is the difference between cyber school and homeschooling?

When you enroll in a cyber charter, you are signing up to do public school at home. It is tuition-free, and all supplies are provided. While it is much more flexible than a brick and mortar school, you still must meet many of the same requirements. Generally speaking, your children will follow a typical school calendar with set school days and vacation days. They must complete the entire curriculum (or close to it) for each subject.

With homeschooling, you have a lot more flexibility to manage your child’s education. While there are general requirements, such as tracking 180 days, covering specific subjects, and keeping good records, parents have a lot of discretion in meeting those requirements. You can have more frequent week-long breaks rather than a single long summer break. You can take the entire month of December off to make the holidays less stressful. You can incorporate historical field trips, museums, and science centers into your curriculum. But with homeschooling, parents are responsible for all associated costs and for making sure all legal requirements are met.

Who teaches cyber school?

When it comes to hiring teachers, charter schools have more flexibility than district schools. In Pennsylvania, at least 75% of charter school teachers must be state certified.

What is synchronous vs. asynchronous learning?

Synchronous learning is when your child joins a teacher and classmates for a live lesson streamed over the internet. For some kids, this is a great approach because they can interact with the teacher and (within limits) their classmates. They can ask questions as needed. And teachers can get a good sense of which kids are keeping up on the material and which are falling behind. Synchronous classes are often recorded so students can re-watch them later if needed.

For some students, however, asynchronous classes work better. Perhaps a student is easily distracted by other children in an online classroom. Some families want more flexibility than they can get with synchronous classes—maybe because of sports, music, theater, or other extracurricular pursuits. Some kids just need to spend more or less time on a lesson, and asynchronous learning lets them go at their own pace.

Each school has its own policy for allowing students to choose asynchronous classes. Some require a certain period of synchronous classes first to make sure cyber schooling works for each student. Others may require students to “earn” asynchronous classes through good grades. At least one—21st Century Cyber—offers only asynchronous classes.

Can a kid get a good education in cyber school?

Absolutely! Cyber schools must meet all state academic standards, but the potential benefits extend beyond the minimum legal requirements. Cyber school isn’t for everyone—it requires diligence and has its own unique challenges. However, it can foster independence in your children and help them be ready for life after school. It also gives kids a chance to accelerate through their classes to graduate early, take college classes in high school, or learn unique skills.

What equipment do I need?

Cyber charter schools ship the necessary supplies—including a computer; a printer if needed; textbooks; and art, music, and science supplies.

Is there cyber school for elementary students?

Yes! Many of Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools offer instruction for K-12 grades. To browse available options, please see our Starting Cyber School post.

At the elementary level, more of the student’s work will be done on paper, workbooks, or white boards. They’ll have hard copies of many books, so they don’t need to spend too much time on screens.

Do cyber schools need to do standardized testing?

Yes. As public schools, cyber schools must administer the PSSAs each spring. Schools will typically arrange for several testing sites throughout the state, so families don’t have to travel too far for testing.

Will my kids have opportunities for socialization?

This is a frequent question for cyber schoolers. Yet, K-12 education is the only time in one’s life where “socialization” is defined as simply sitting at a desk surrounded by kids who are the same age and live in the same area. Once you graduate from high school, socializing involves people of all ages in a variety of situations.

For kids who are in cyber school, socialization is much more like the real world. They meet kids through their online classes, through in-person activities organized by their school, by joining local clubs or sports teams, and through countless other opportunities in their community. This gives them the opportunity to interact with a wider variety of people and develop friendships based on shared interests and values rather than just proximity.

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