Adam Schott and James Jack write here about the poor performance of cyber charters in Pennsylvania.
You might even say the abysmal performance of cyber charters.
Pennsylvania has 16, more of them than any state in the nation, and six more want to open. No wonder they want to open. It is a lucrative business.
If it was viewed as a single school district, Pennsylvania’s expansive cyber charter sector would represent Pennsylvania’s second-largest district, with more than 35,000 students attending 16 schools statewide. Cyber charters received approximately $366 million in taxpayer funds in 2012-13—drawing payments from 498 of the state’s 500 school districts.
Their performance is awful:
In 2011-2012, just one of the state’s then 12 cyber charter schools met state academic thresholds for adequate yearly progress, while eight schools landed in one of several stages of “corrective action”—the lowest level of academic performance.
A 2011 report by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes that examined Pennsylvania charter schools found that “performance at cyber charter schools was substantially lower than the performance at brick-and-mortar charters.”
Last week, Research for Action and our colleagues at the Education Law Center weighed new data: School Performance Profile scores, which are at the heart of the state’s new accountability plan under its No Child Left Behind waiver. We examined scores for the 11 cyber charter schools for which complete data were available—together, these schools educate nearly 17,000 students, or roughly half of the statewide cyber charter enrollment.
All 11 cybers scored among the lowest schools in the state. Not one of these cyber schools met or exceeded the average performance of Pennsylvania’s public and charter schools.
In fact, according to the state’s data, the average performance of cyber charters was more than 33 points behind that of traditional public schools, and nearly 23 points behind brick-and-mortar charter schools. Put another way, cyber charters—despite recent expansion—represent less than one half of one percent of the state’s schools, yet account for more than one-third of the state’s lowest-scoring based on that data.
Pennsylvania’s cyber charter schools enroll a student population that broadly reflects the state as a whole in terms of special education identification rates, English language learner status, and other characteristics. Yet the sector’s performance is well below that of the overwhelming majority of public schools, both traditional and brick-and-mortar charter schools.
Pennsylvania policymakers have an obligation to make decisions informed by all available evidence. We urge them to carefully consider the performance data on cyber charters as they consider further expansion of this sector.
Adam Schott is Director of Policy Research at Research for Action and a former Executive Director of the State Board of Education. James Jack is a Senior Research Associate at RFA.