By attaching her computer mouse to an oscillating fan, one cyberschool student was able to pretend she was working on her computer throughout the school day.
That admission, to the cyberschool coordinator for Washington School District, is just one reason why the district is questioning the effectiveness and accountability of charter and cyberschools in Pennsylvania.
In the past five years, the district has spent $1.9 million in tuition so that 60 to 65 students could enroll in cyberschools.
At the same time, there is little to show that those students were receiving a good education. In fact, attempts by administrators to get attendance and progress reports, as well as notification when a student dropped out of a cyberschool, were met with a “cease and desist” letter from an attorney for the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School in Beaver.
Washington School District Superintendent Dr. Roberta DiLorenzo gave a report at the school board meeting Monday night on issues with cyberschools’ accountability.
Among the instances she cited were:
• One student from Washington enrolled in a state cyberschool earned seven credits in four years, at a cost to the district of $36,000. The student, according to the cyberschool, had perfect attendance all four years.
• The cost of a special education student enrolled in cyberschool is more than double the amount for a student in a regular classroom. The district is charged $9,202 for a regular education student and $19,802 for a special education student, per year.
• A student receiving speech services at Washington for one 30-minute session per week costs $569 while, for the same time in a cyberschool, the cost is $8,461.
• A number of parents admitted to enrolling their children in cyberschool to avoid the truancy fines because cyberschools don’t report students to a district judge.
• Parents of homeschooled children are held accountable by having to submit an application each year to the district and having a certified evaluator analyze each student’s portfolio, while no such requirement is made of a parent with a child in a cyberschool.
• Under data from the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment, students in Washington School District outscored the cyberschools in almost all of 14 tests. And the cyberschools scored below the state average in nearly all of its tests.
Furthermore, while school districts in the state are held accountable for those test scores, cyberschools are not. Nor are cyberschools accountable for student attendance.
“There are kids who thrive in cyberschools just as there are kids who thrive in homeschooling,” Dr. DiLorenzo said. “All I’m saying is hold them as accountable as you are holding the public schools.”
The district’s cyberschool tuition bill had been running between $500,000 and $700,000 per year. But in January, the district partnered with Trinity Area and Western Beaver school districts to start their own cyberschool. Washington has about 35 students enrolled in the Collaborative Online Academy and among the benefits are that a cybercoordinator ensures that students are logging on to their computers. The coordinator also regularly connects with their parents. If the student chooses to come back to school they are already aligned with the district’s curriculum.
DiLorenzo’s remarks also will be delivered during an April 11 meeting with state legislators and area school administrators to be held at Canon-McMillan.
State Rep. Jesse White, D-Cecil, plans to attend. He admitted cyberschools are a growing problem and pointed to attempts to amend bills for cyber and charter schools that would require the same standards as those for teachers in a traditional classroom.
State Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks County, has introduced a bill that would require students to enroll in programs run by their home districts.