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Finding the Right Cyber Charter

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By Connie Langland

So, how exactly does a parent or guardian choose a cyber charter school for their child?

With a whole lot of research, says Peter Cooper, whose daughter Saadia Feliciano-Cooper was the keynote speaker at graduation ceremonies in June for Philadelphia area students of the Commonwealth Communications Academy, one of Pennsylvania's 11 cyber charters..

Cooper and his family live in Yeadon, and his local district, William Penn, has the same chronic academic, discipline and funding problems as the big Philadelphia district next door

But Cooper and his wife Shenelle have worked to make themselves experts at judging the strengths and weaknesses of both the local schools and cyber education for their six children, ages 18, 15, 10, 7, 5 and 2.

They researched cyber schools on the Internet, and they also studied the resources, curriculum and "climate" of the local elementary and middle schools, the ninth grade academy and the high school in their local district.

Cooper Pix.jpgSome years, the children enrolled in local classes, though one child was falling behind and his parents switched him to cyber school so he could get extra help that year before returning to the local school.

But, said Cooper, the secondary schools in the district fell short of his expectations. The schools "had so many problems and so many deficiencies, and I saw the facilities and they were substandard. Their goal was to get children to 'proficiency' and that was not good enough. ... My children's future is too important and I pulled them out."

But choosing a cyber school is a hit-and-miss proposition unless the parent does extensive research.

Here are some questions and issues to consider:

n      Consider the needs of your child. What support services will the child require? What opportunities are there for Advanced Placement and honors courses and independent study?

n      Determine whether you, as a parent or guardian, can make the time commitment and have the organizational and computer skills to assist the child.

n      Ask what curriculum does the school use?

n      Does the school have a regional center near your home, where children can go for extra activities and help?

n      What group activities and field trips does the school offer?

n      Does the school assign a mentor or support person to track the progress of the student from grade to grade?

n      How does the school plan to personalize education offerings for your child? 

n      Learn whether the cyber school is meeting Adequate Yearly Progress requirements under No Child Left Behind and whether the school's students match or do better than the local schools in terms of annual state assessments, known as the PSSA.. If the school has missed AYP goals, inquire about reasons why and its plans to improve performance.

n      Be certain to learn whether the student can log on to "live" classes. The terminology is "synchronous" and "asynchronous" - and some courses in some schools are not offered in real time.

n      Research the schools online and be aware that the home pages typically are promotions for the schools. Find chat rooms that include parent comment. Visit the charter school section on the state Department of Education website. If the school's charter has been renewed, read the document to determine whether deficiencies the state identified were remedied. There, you can also find copies of the schools' 2009 annual reports which may describe recent improvements.

n      Does the school take full advantage of e-learning through the use of diagnostic and adaptive software that can speed progress in such areas as reading and mathematics?

 

Saadia Feliciano-Cooper, who now is a freshman at the University of Maryland with plans to study psychology and criminal justice, said her three years in cyber school "taught me a lot - to be motivated, work at my own pace. I feel I'm well prepared for college. I know how to get up and do my own work, and get my work in on time. As an educational move, it was better for me."

 

 

Here are some useful websites:

-- The Education Law Center, with offices in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, has published two fact sheets, one on charter schools and one on cyber charter schools.  Go to Publications & Materials, then to Charter Schools.

-- AYP and PSSA data are published on this site. Charter school data can be found at the bottom of the list in the "Select a County or I.U." category.

-- This Department of Education website page gets you to recent cyber charter renewal decisions and other information. Click on "Applying to Become a Charter School in PA." Click on "Annual Reports" to find annual reports filed for 2009 and previous years.

-- This is the home page of the state's Office of Charter Schools.  Select options in the left column for more detailed information about individual schools.

 

Next: How 'brick and click' may be the future of education.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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