Virtual School Meanderings

October 22, 2013

Article Notice – Virtual Charter Schools: Realities and Unknowns

The publication of this article first came across my radar screen via the

Virtual Charter Schools: Realities and Unknowns

Daniela Torre

Journal of Distance Education VOL. 27, No. 1


Virtual charter schools have emerged over the last decade as an increasingly popular alternative to traditional public schooling. Unlike their face-to-face counterparts, virtual charter schools educate students through blended or entirely online curricula. They present a host of new policy issues that should be scrutinized in order to ensure that students enrolled in virtual charter schools are receiving an adequate, if not excellent, education. This article explores the landscape in which virtual charter schools have emerged and describes their operation. Finally, the article discusses some of the challenges, opportunities, and key research recommendations associated with virtual charter schools.


Au cours de la dernière décennie, de plus en plus d’écoles à charte virtuelle ont vu le jour en tant qu’alternative populaire aux écoles publiques traditionnelles. Contrairement à leur équivalent face à face, les écoles à charte virtuelle font l’éducation des étudiants par le biais d’un programme de formation hybride ou entièrement en ligne. Elles font valoir une quantité de nouvelles questions stratégiques qui devraient être examinées soigneusement en vue de s’assurer que les étudiants inscrits dans les écoles à charte virtuelle reçoivent une éducation adéquate ou excellente. Cet article examine l’aménagement dans lequel les écoles à charte virtuelle ont vu le jour et décrit leur mode de fonctionnement. Finalement, l’article discute quelques-uns des défis, opportunités et recommandations clés de recherche associés aux écoles à charte virtuelle.

I will be honest and disclose that I reviewed this manuscript at one point – I’m not sure if it was for this journal or for another journal from an earlier submission by the author.  In my review I raised concerns about the confounding of the terms virtual school and virtual charter school, and the fact that the author often used literature that focused on virtual supplemental schools and applied it incorrectly or in a misleading way towards virtual charter schools.  I also felt that the manuscript was a bit of a cheerleading piece, as the research literature on virtual charter schools paints a pretty bleak picture about their value and success.

Many of these issues still exist within the published article, so I would advise that you consider the source and what form of virtual schooling they are referring to when you read this article.  As a quick guide, the citations related to myself, the Canadian Council for Learning, Cathy Cavanaugh, Tom Clark, Larry Kuehn, and Barbara Means are all focused on virtual supplemental schools – and as such have no applicability to virtual charter schools or the case the author is trying to make.

October 16, 2013

Pennsylvania School Performance Profile And Cyber Charter Schooling

So I had a bit of time over the weekend to play around with the Pennsylvania School Performance Profile and check out how the cyber charter schools in that state are fairing.  If you haven’t used the system, you can look-up schools, counties/districts, charter schools, and cyber charter schools.  Under the cyber charter school category there are 15 entries, but the charter school category also has XXX

There were a total of XXX schools that “Academic Performance Data is not currently available due to corrections the school will make in its end-of-course designations for students taking the Keystone Exams. This school’s School Performance Profile (SPP) academic performance data will be available by January 2014.”  These schools included:

  • 21st Century Cyber
  • ASPIRA Bilingual Cyber
  • Commonwealth Connections Academy
  • Pennsylvania Cyber
  • Susq-Cyber

Of the ones that did have scores, I found:

  • Achievement House – 39.7
  • ACT Academy Cyber – 30.6
  • Agora Cyber – 48.4
  • Central PA Digital Learning Foundation – 31.7
  • Education Plus Academy Cyber – 39.0
  • Esperanza Cyber – 32.7
  • Pennsylvania Distance Learning – 54.7
  • Pennsylvania Leadership – 64.7
  • Pennsylvania Virtual – 67.9
  • Solomon Charter School Inc. – 36.9

The scores can go up to 107.  I couldn’t find the exact names for each of the range categories, but the basic breakdown is (note the terms are mine):

  • > 100 – Blue square with a star (i.e., wonderful school)
  • 90-100 – Blue outline positively oriented triangle (i.e., also wonderful school, just not quite as wonderful)
  • 80-89.9 – Light blue positively oriented triangle (i.e., a great school)
  • 70-79.9 – Green square (i.e., good school)
  • 60-69.9 – Yellow negatively oriented triangle (i.e., almost or in danger of failing school)
  • < 60 – Red negatively oriented triangle (i.e., failing school)

The data tell an interesting story.  Eight failing cyber charter schools and two almost failing or barely passing cyber charter schools!

Cyber charter schooling is certainly providing a quality education for the students of Pennsylvania!!!

October 11, 2013

Cyber Charter Schooling In Canada???

As my Canadian readers know, and many of my American readers as well, the Province of Alberta is the only jurisdiction in Canada that allows charter schools.  The nature of Canadian charter schools are VERY different than what we find in the United States, and to date the notion of a for-profit charter school or a charter school run by an educational management organization (EMO) is kind of foreign to most folks.  Further, there are no online charter schools in the province.

However, the folks in Alberta tend to be among the most conservative in Canada.  At the same time, the Province of Alberta – the only Canadian province that doesn’t have a provincial sales tax – is facing severe fiscal difficulties.  It is a combination of both the political and the fiscal climates that have some concerned it may open the door to the for-profit, privatization of education that we have seen in the United States in the form of EMO charters and cyber charters.

This was discussion was brought to the forefront this past week with an item published in the Edmonton Journal entitled “Opinion: Online charter schools pose risk to public system,” in advance of the release of a report from the Parkland Institute entitled Delivery Matters: Cyber Charter Schools and K-12 Education in Alberta.

It is an interesting read…  A look at cyber charter schooling from a Canadian perspective…  I took a quick peek at the report, looking mainly at the citations, and they seem to have hit most of the main cyber charter schooling research citations.

July 24, 2013

Reclaiming the Promise

From yesterday’s inbox…

Dear Michael,

We believe in public education because it is the means by which we help all children dream their dreams and achieve them. And I mean all children—those who have abundant advantages, and those for whom every day is a struggle; those who worry about getting into a good college, and those who worry about their parents getting deported.

Watch the videoEducators like you help students build lives of great purpose and potential by instilling essential knowledge and skills, including critical reasoning, problem-solving and working with others, and by promoting civic participation. We believe in high-quality public education because it is an economic necessity, an anchor of democracy, a moral imperative and a fundamental civil right, without which none of our other rights can be fully realized. And I believe that promise, that hope, that accomplishment, is a direct result of the work you do every day, the most important work in America.

I truly believe we are in a crucial moment when we must reclaim the promise of public education—not as it is today or as it was in the past, but as what public education can be to fulfill our collective obligation to help all children succeed.

People are waking up to the fact that decades of top-down edicts, mass school closures, privatization and test fixation with sanctions instead of support haven’t moved the needle—not in the right direction at least.

And today, in front of nearly 3,000 educators at our union’s TEACH conference in Washington, D.C., I laid out a vision to reclaim the promise of public education and unite parents and community with us as one unstoppable force.

Stand with us to Reclaim the Promise.

Reclaiming the promise of public education is about fighting for neighborhood public schools that are safe, welcoming places for teaching and learning. Reclaiming the promise is about ensuring that teachers are well-prepared, are supported and have time to collaborate. Reclaiming the promise is about enabling them to teach an engaging curriculum that includes art and music and the sciences. And reclaiming the promise is about ensuring that kids have access to wraparound services to meet their emotional, social and health needs.

Taken together, all these things reflect our prescription for ensuring that all kids have the opportunities they need and deserve. This vision may look different community by community, but it has a few common elements. Reclaiming the promise will bring back the joy of teaching and learning. It’s the way to make every public school a place where parents want to send their kids, teachers want to teach and children are engaged. It makes our public schools the center of the community and fulfills their purpose as an anchor of our democracy and a propeller of our economy.

We know it is not only educators who are for this; parents and community members have our backs. A recent poll, we released today, found that parents want strong neighborhood public schools as opposed to more charter schools or voucher programs, and overwhelmingly believe public schools should provide a well-rounded education, offer social services for students and reduce the emphasis on testing, among other findings.

This is not a campaign. This is our core. And it must be the focus of our work going forward. Ours is a vision that works. It’s a vision of what parents want for their kids. And it’s a movement that can stop the privatizers, profiteers and austerity hawks in their tracks.

But they’re not going to roll over and go away. We need your help. None of us can be bystanders. We need to reach out to parents, the community and civic leaders. We need to open their eyes to the good things happening in our schools—as well as the challenges we face. We need to open their minds to our vision for great neighborhood public schools. We need to open their hearts to joining with us in the effort to ensure all our children get the great education they need and deserve.

Join us in Reclaiming the Promise.

In unity,
Randi Weingarten
AFT President

P.S. Read the full speech I gave at the AFT TEACH Conference this morning, launching the AFT’s core program, Reclaiming the Promise.

July 16, 2013

Article Notice – Charter Schools, The Establishment Clause, And The Neoliberal Turn In Public Education

Over the weekend a notice of this article appeared in the ProQuest/EBSCO Alerts.

Charter Schools, the Establishment Clause, and the Neoliberal Turn in Public Education

Aaron J. Saiger, Fordham University School of Law

May 1, 2013

Cardozo Law Review, Vol. 34, No. 1163, 2013
Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2259283

Abstract: Regardless whether the American charter school can improve academic performance and provide effective alternatives to traditional public schools, its steady entrenchment as an institution portends significant, destabilizing changes across education law. In no area will its impact be more profound than the law of religion and schooling. Despite the general view that charter schools are public schools, charters’ neoliberal character — they are privately created and managed, and chosen by consumers in a marketplace — makes them private schools for Establishment Clause purposes, notwithstanding their public subsidy. This conclusion, which rests in substantial part on the Zelman v. Simmons-Harris vouchers case, implies that very substantial amounts of government money could be directed towards religious institutions as the charter sector expands. State decisions to permit or forbid religious chartering will determine the magnitude of this shift. But even states seeking to forbid religious chartering will find that the bottom-up, market-oriented structure of chartering invites religiously oriented educational entrepreneurs and parents to exploit the fuzziness of the categories “religion” and “school” in order to undermine such a ban. Practical and constitutional constraints upon the regulatory tools that the neoliberal paradigm makes available to states — rulemaking and exercising bureaucratic discretion when approving and renewing charters — ensure that efforts to abolish religion in charters will enjoy only partial success.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 64

Keywords: school choice, charter schools, school vouchers, privatization, school prayer, First Amendment, religion, religious schools, Catholic schools, special education

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