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Pennsylvania Public Cyber Charter Schools
I have not used a public cyber-charter school myself. I have gathered here a few links and some information for families who would like to explore this option for their children. Please understand that I am still learning!
Cyber schools, which can be public or private, are the modern, on-line version of correspondence schools. Charter schools are public schools often run by private companies. Public cyber charter schools are a blend of the two.
Some people think of public cyber-charters as a sort of public-funded homeschooling, since the students do not attend a bricks-and-mortar school. Others are careful to make the distinction between privately-funded homeschooling, where parents retain as much control as possible, and publicly-funded school-at-home, where parents have considerably less control.
Any Pennsylvania child can enroll in a public cyber-charter, without charge to the family. Tuition, set at 80% of the tax dollars that would normally be used to educate the student in his or her home district, is paid by the student’s school district.
The school provides the materials, usually including a computer and access to the internet. Different schools use different curricula. Some offer more choice in this area than others. Some have computer-based lessons, others use a more traditional textbook-based approach.
If you are enrolled in a PA public cyber-charter school, you will be enrolled in a public school, and will not legally be considered a home educator. Obviously, this has pros and cons to consider.
If you are new to educating your children at home, talk to homeschoolers about the differences between public-school-at-home and independent home education to help you decide which option is right for you and your family. Understand that cyber-charter schools take a very different approach than many homeschooling families. The oversight, structure and control offered by a public cyber-charter may or may not be the right choice for you.
It’s also important to understand that not all cyber charter schools are the same. To help you research the differences, so you can decide which one is best for you, see my list of Questions to Ask Before Enrolling in a Cyber Charter School. You may also want to join http://groups.yahoo.com/group/PACyberschoolers/, an e-mail group for parents of public cyber school students and those looking into cybers.
Here is a list of PA public cyber-charter schools from the PDE. There may be more. Some only offer certain grades; others offer K-12. See also the PDE’s Charter Schools Web Pages (which also includes bricks-and-mortar charter schools). Note that despite a school's location, most of these schools enroll students from across Pennsylvania. Note also that even if your local school district has its own cyber school, you may choose a school located in another area.
Each cyber-charter uses a different curriculum. Some of them offer a choice of curricula from popular private correspondence schools. I’ve provided these links to the curriculum providers, so that you can get an idea of what you are getting from a cyber school that uses one of these. You might want to send off for the curriculm providers' catalogs, to get a better idea of what they are like.
In some cases, you can also purchase this curriculum privately; sometimes you also have the option of purchasing just one or two courses, rather than the whole package.
· What grades do you include?
· What is the role of the parent, and what is the role of the school representative/teacher? Who is expected to do the teaching? How much is the student expected to work on his own, and how much will the parent be required to do?
· What materials do you provide? What is the family expected to provide?
· Is there a choice of curriculum? What if the curriculum isn’t working well for the student – is there another choice?
· How much of the curriculum is computer-based? Are textbooks used? Can we “do school” anywhere, such as when we are away from home, or must we be at the computer?
· How much contact will there be with the school? How is this communications done? By phone, on line, by mail?
· How is attendance kept? Must I count hours, days, or both? What counts as a “school day”? Can we school over the summer? Can we school on the weekends and/or on holidays? Can we take vacations or days off when we want or need to? How often and for how long?
· How must we document the student’s progress? Will there be tests? Assignments to be turned in?
· How must we pace ourselves? Can we speed up or slow down when it seems needed? Can we skip material? Do we have to cover a certain amount of material in a year?
· Does the school organize any field trips or other gatherings? How are these funded? Are they optional or mandatory?
· Will the school allow the student to take local classes, for example in gym or music? Will it pay for these classes? If so, are there any guidelines or restrictions on them? Will any other activities (scouts, sports, choir, etc.) count towards school time?
· What kinds of incidental expenses can I expect? Paper, printer ink, etc.? Will you reimburse me for my internet service?
As public school students, cyber-charter students are usually encouraged/required to take the PSSA test. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, schools must have a high percentage of their students take the test, otherwise they will automatically be judged to be a “failing” school, regardless of how well the students who do take the test score.
Is it possible to opt out of PSSA testing?
· PA Code Chapter 4.4(d)(4) says “If upon inspection of State assessments parents or guardians find the assessments in conflict with their religious belief and wish their student be excused from the assessment, the right of the parents or guardians will not be denied upon written request to the applicable school district superintendent or AVTS director.”
· To understand what the PA Code is, and how it differs from law, see http://www.pacode.com/faq.htm.
More about the PSSA:
Note: As of July 2011, the articles below all have broken links. I have left the information here in case it is useful in searching for updated information.