More accountability for Pa. cyber schools

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State Rep. James Roebuck, the Democratic chairman of the House Education Committee, introduced a bill last week that would shift cyber school funding from school districts to the state and increase accountability of all charter schools.

Cyber schools are online public charter schools that operate independently but are publicly funded. Some cyber schools offer classroom instruction.

Under Roebuck’s bill, the state would assume financial responsibility for cyber school tuition and not the local school districts, which have been paying cyber tuition and then getting partial reimbursement.

Roebuck is right to point out that the since the state approves and renews cyber charters the state should also be responsible to fund cyber schools.

Roebuck’s bill deserves support because it would save local school districts millions and make charter schools more accountable.

More accountability appears to be in order considering a new study that shows Pennsylvania charter schools lag behind their counterparts in traditional public schools when it comes to learning.

The Stanford University study released in April said comparisons of reading and math test scores between 2007 and 2010 showed that overall, students at more than one-third of the charter schools trailed those at comparable public schools. But 30 percent of the charter schools outperformed the public schools in reading and 25 percent of the charter schools did better in math

“Elementary school students enrolled in charter schools outperformed their peers in traditional public schools in both math and reading, while those enrolled in middle and multilevel charter schools performed worse in both subjects than their peers at traditional public schools,” the report says.

The major problem appears to be with the cyber schools.

The poor showing by cyber schools brought down the overall charter school numbers.

Students at cyber schools, who accounted for 30 percent of the charter students covered by the study, performed significantly worse than students at public school, the study says.

If cyber schools are excluded, 35 percent of charter students performed better than their traditional public school counterparts in reading while 34 percent worse.

Bob Fayfich, director of the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools, told the Allentown Morning Call that the study shows the need for greater consistency in a state with 135 charter schools and a dozen cyber-charters.

“What we need to do is look at what the good charter schools are doing well and share that information with the schools that are underperforming,’ Fayfich said.

Tim Eller, a spokesman for the state Education Department, said Gov. Tom Corbett has called for overhauling the charter-school law.

The study underscores the need to develop statewide consistency measures of charter schools and to make them more accountable.

(Reprinted from the Philadelphia Tribune.)

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