Commercial Cyber Charters in Pennsylvania

Contrary to what their commercials state, commercial cyber charters are not FREE! School districts are directly billed monthly for the students attending commercial cyber charter schools. The cyber charter school tuition charged to the Susquehanna Community School District for the 19/20 school year is $13,539.02 for a regular education student and $29,328.14 for a special education student. The Susquehanna Community School District is slated to spend approximately $500,000 this year on tuition bills from commercial cyber charter schools.

Anyone reviewing Pennsylvania’s Future Ready Index will see that commercial cyber charters are among the lowest-performing schools in Pennsylvania. The Brookings Institute’s June 2019 article entitled Do Cyber Charter Schools Harm Public Education for the Most Disadvantaged? analyzed the national evaluations of cyber charter student performance and found that in Pennsylvania, there is “evidence of knowledge loss (negative growth scores) from 4th to 8th grade in reading and math, literature, algebra, and biology.” All 15 cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania are currently designated under at least one of the three ESSA designations associated with needing mandated state improvement plans. The vast majority of these schools, 11 out of 15, are designated as CSI (Comprehensive Support and Improvement) schools, which are those schools identified as needing the highest level of improvement. Additionally, the Four-Year Cohort Graduation Rates for cyber charters are among the lowest of any schools in Pennsylvania. Among the 12 cyber charter schools that have graduation rate data for 2019, their average Four-Year Cohort Graduation Rate is 54.85%.

A 2019 study by Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes (CREDO) found that compared to an average student enrolled in a school district; a student enrolled in a cyber charter school in Pennsylvania loses the equivalent of 118 days of learning in math and 106 days of learning in reading. Their researchers concluded that cyber charter schools have an overwhelmingly negative impact on students.

Cyber charters have taken hold in Pennsylvania communities that are economically disadvantaged. According to the above referenced Brookings Institute article, authors Mann and Baker state, “before reports of potential ineffectiveness, cyber enrollments increased in many districts after extensive marketing. However, as media stories of dubious benefits mounted, districts with more educated parents did not increase enrollment in cyber charter schools. In contrast, those with fewer resources and with less-educated parents saw enrollments climb.” It is easy to conclude that cyber schools have specifically marketed their failing programs to economically disadvantaged communities hoping that parents would not do the research necessary to understand only how poor a commercial cyber charter education is.

One of the largest cyber charters in the Commonwealth initially refused to follow the Right to Know requests from research and public policy organizations stating that their information is not subject to the Open Records Laws under the premise that their information constituted a “trade secret.” As presented in testimony to the PA Senate Education Committee on October 22, 2019, by the Executive Director of Education Voters of Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Charter Academy denied a request for records from Education Voters of PA by stating “CCA must deny your request, insofar as it seeks records which would contain or reveal legally protected trade secrets and confidential, proprietary information.” These trade secrets must consist of nothing more than making students and parents believe that they are achieving academic success when they are being educated by a program that places students years behind grade-level resulting in negative academic growth annually.

Commercial cyber charter schools are failing the students enrolled in them and the taxpayers funding them. If left unchecked, their impact on brick and mortar public schools will be devastating. In September of 2019, Governor Wolf stated, “Pennsylvania’s charter school law is the worst in the nation,” and hopefully, 2020 will be the year it is fixed.

Bronson Stone
Superintendent of Schools
Susquehanna Community School District

Sources:

Baker, D., & Mann, B. (2019, June 24). Do cyber charter schools harm public education for the most disadvantaged? Retrieved from https://www.brookings.edu/blog/education-plus-development/2019/06/24/do-cyber-charter-schools-harm-public-education-for-the-most-disadvantaged/

Charter School Performance in Pennsylvania. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://credo.stanford.edu/publications/charter-school-performance-pennsylvania

Charter Schools. (2019). Retrieved January 20, 2020, from Pennsylvania Department of Education website: https://www.education.pa.gov/K-12/Charter%20Schools/Pages/default.aspx

Education Voters of PA testimony for the Pennsylvania Senate Education Committee Public Hearing on Charter School Entities - Education Voters of PA. (2019, October 22). Retrieved January 28, 2020, from Education Voters of PA website: http://educationvoterspa.org/blog/education-voters-of-pa-testimony-for-the-pennsylvania-senate-education-committee-public-hearing-on-charter-school-entities/

Find a School. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.futurereadypa.org/Search/District

Muschick, P. (2019, August 29). Paul Muschick: Pennsylvania's cyber charter schools perform poorly and are overpaid. So why do we put up with them? Retrieved from https://www.mcall.com/opinion/mc-opi-pa-cyber-charter-schools-muschick-20190829-4dulroi2qzfunjb3ow7a64ow4a-story.html

Performance Profile. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.paschoolperformance.org/downloads.html

Singer, S. (2019, February 5). Ten of 15 Cyber Charter Schools in PA Are Operating Without a Charter–Close Them All. Retrieved from https://www.commondreams.org/views/2019/02/05/ten-15-cyber-charter-schools-pa-are-operating-without-charter-close-them-all