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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Cyber Schools? What Side Are You On?

Cyber Schools? What Side Are You On?

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One of the most controversial aspects of online education to appear in recent years is something known as the cyber school. These are online schools that are recruiting students from traditional schools. These home-based programs allow children to telecommute to school just as older students do for online college courses or continuing education. In specialized fields such as six sigma online training, online access has opened up important educational opportunities. Cyber schools are somewhat different. They are being offered to students who could attend local public schools. Another key difference is that cyber schools are structured as charter schools. According to The Express-Times and The Huffington Post , in Pennsylvania 32,322 students are enrolled in cyber schools and enrollment is continuing to grow. As it does, these schools are taking students and by extension budgets away from traditional public schools. A survey conducted in 5 Pennsylvania counties found that the $15.3 million of public money was spent on cyber schooling in 2011. Disturbingly only 2 out of 12-cyber schools managed to meet No Child Left Behind standards. In Pennsylvania the Lehigh Valley public school and others are looking to fight back against the cyber school trend by offering their own online cyber academies. By doing this the traditional schools retain the funds and are able to see to it that the children are taught to state standards. Cyber schools and district schools in Pennsylvania are paid a flat fee per student rather than according to what it costs them to educate the students. Without the overhead of school facilities and the requirements of traditional schools the cyber schools are no-doubt profitable. To date the state has not seen any refunded cyber school profits. Proponents of cyber schooling point out that children have access to an individualized curriculum including foreign language study. Cyber home schooling allows children that do not fit well into the public school environment to home school electronically. Students from poor districts can opt to take cyber classes from wealthier areas and avoid many of the troubling social issues that exist within their local schools. Without a doubt for some cyber schooling is a real opportunity. Unfortunately, cyber schools are also new. What if a chronically truant child opts to cyber school? What if time-strapped parents fail to oversee cyber schooling at all? What about basic things that often help the poorest students like free school meals and field trips? Do cyber students experience group socialization and team learning? In Pennsylvania cyber schooling is a reality that educators are embracing. What is happening in your district and how do you feel about cyber school education? Lisa Pluth, PhD is a writer and researcher for RHL.org the best source for residence hall linens and twinXL bedding on the web.

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Kimberly Ely's picture
Kimberly Ely
Instructional Systems Design Editor

The cyber school discussion is a heated one. I have to say that I am a huge supporter of cyber schools, especially charter cyber schools. They grant children the kind of individualized instruction that helps them succeed when brick and mortar schools are not helping.

Are cyber schools sucking money away from the school districts? I don't think so. They are providing students with an opportunity to achieve. They accomplish this by providing education at a pace that works for students.

What is especially interesting about school districts launching their own cyber programs is this: there are wonderful schools already up and running across the state of PA. Several of these cyber schools have achieved AYP and continue to grow and succeed. Why start from scratch when there are schools out there who know how to teach students in a virtual environment? It will take time to establish the best fit model. I hope that some districts will look to those schools already thriving for help.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia
Facilitator

Great question, Lisa and a great response, Kimberly. I have a slightly different perspective, coming from Australia, which I think might be useful to share. Over here, we are very much at the starting point of this whole discussion - we have distance education, sure, but certainly nothing on the scale of the US. As far as I'm aware, we barely even talk about 'cyberschooling.' Having said that, I think that's something that is going to change very recently - as parents (as 'consumers in the education market') select what they consider to be the best offering for their child.

I've got a related question: here in Australia, it's very challenging to set up a school - is that different in the US, with charter schools?

Simplice's picture
Simplice
Technology Lead Teacher in NJ

Cyber schooling is not a big thing in my district as of yet. In the same token I don't think that it is the way to go unless you have no choice or trapped by time when it comes to parents. If parents don't have time to take their child to school how could they have time to monitor how well the child is doing with his or her studies when left alone at home. If i was to chose between cyber schooling and charter school I will opt for charter school. I believe children have to be amongst their peers to develop a some how good learning habit. Education is not only book knowledge it require a whole set of structure and conditions that need to be met. What about differentiated instruction or the question and answer with students' participation???

Kimberly Ely's picture
Kimberly Ely
Instructional Systems Design Editor

I can appreciate the response posted by Simplice. However, it is incredible to see the kind of flexibility and innovation now available through cyber education programs. The concerns referenced above are valid. However, through cyber schools today, differentiation of instruction is more than possible-- it is a norm. Also, teachers are interacting with students, as they are available 5 days a week to guide students through learning and instruction. The face of cyber education is changing at a rapid pace.

I think many of us have an antiquated perspective of what cyber school is like. Because each cyber school operates a bit differently, it's hard to nail down exactly what to expect when a student signs up.

I think that cyber education works, and it works very well, for a particular population of students for whom a traditional educational setting is not working. 21st Century Cyber Charter School has a lot to offer in the way of individualized instruction, and I think cyber education in general, is shifting in a really great way!

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