Over the past couple weeks or so, I've been debating with parents who have their children enrolled in one of the public cyber charter schools here in Pennsylvania. Some of the debate stemmed from the following PHEA article from 2005:
Public Cyber Charter School - Is It Homeschooling?
Most of the parents took offense to the reference they were not homeschoolers. When asked why, most of the responses were "because we're at home" or "because the curriculum is different from the one in the public school". Yes, I agreed, they are at home and the curriculum is different, but that does not qualify them as homeschoolers. I asked if they had to file their affidavit, along with educational objectives, every year. No, were the responses. Did you send in the portfolio at the end of the year? No, again. What was most stunning was the reference to our homeschool as "traditional", while their homeschools were "free". When I said they were muddying the waters between homeschooling and public cyber charters, I was told I was being "cruel" to refer to their children as public schoolers. My question then was: if they're not public schoolers, then what are they, because they are certainly not homeschoolers? Their education was being funded at taxpayer expense.
The muddying of the waters will continue as long as cyber charter students are lumped in with homeschoolers. The children are public cyber charter students educated at home. When the parents come to realize that, the debate over who is and is not a homeschooler will end.
Now, having said all that, I am a supporter of the public cyber charters as an alternative to attending brick and mortar public schools. The district where I live (Pleasant Valley) has one of the worst records in the state. While I don't believe a child's entire education should be tied to test scores, the ones from this district are very telling. The literacy rate has dropped three years in a row, from 11% to 9%. I've reviewed several PSSA tests in the past, and found the tests to be no more difficult than the regular tests we took in school. Many parents are so disgusted by what has been going on in the district, they've opted for the cyber charters. Some were sold on them, because of the curriculum used, i.e. one uses Calvert, another uses K-12, another uses (insert curriculum name here). There are parents I know who have several children enrolled in these schools. They have said the curriculum has been changed over the years, requiring far less work, and "dumbed down" to the point of being nothing but busywork for the younger grades. From what they have been told, the state has mandated portions of the curriculum change to match PA state standards, or entire courses have been removed because they weren't in line with normal school curriculum. Is this the future of the cyber charters? Are they going to become nothing more than branches of the local districts? If that's the case, they I will have no choice but to withdraw my support of such schools.
The schools were supposed to be an alternative to what was offered in the regular school districts. They were not supposed to become similar to our local schools. It would be a shame, and a disservice to the students of these schools, to change for the worse.