OP-ED: Education isn't one-size-fits-all model

Jane Swan
Reach Cyber Charter School
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On Monday, Sept. 16, Reach Cyber Charter School students, parents, teachers and staff lined up inside the state Capitol rotunda to make our voices heard in regards to Gov. Tom Wolf’s proposal to impose new rules on charter schools.

Two considerations are missing from these conversations about proposed charter school reform in Pennsylvania: education should not be a one-size-fits-all model, particularly for students with high degrees of mobility, and education funding is attached to students, not to districts or schools. 

In Pennsylvania, families have educational choice. Students across the state choose cyber charter schools for a variety of reasons, from those who need an alternative to the traditional classroom to those who need a flexible schedule or learn at a different pace from their peers.

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With 19 years as an educator and 11 years of experience in cyber charter education, I have witnessed how online schools foster student success for a range of students, especially mobile students. 

Student mobility, the transfer of students into or out of a particular school during the academic year, is experienced by every school and district across America. The student may choose to move schools, may need more individualized learning, may be escaping a bully, may be experiencing a health problem, or seeking opportunities not available in a brick and mortar school. Regardless, studies show mobility negatively impacts math and reading achievement, as well as increases high school dropout rates. 

And no matter student demographics, online schools have the highest mobility rates in the country.  

Research conducted at Reach Cyber Charter School and other Connections Academy Schools shows that it is not unusual for students who are new to online school to demonstrate performance on state assessments below state averages and that with consecutive years of enrollment, the gap between the state and Connections Academy schools closes significantly. This research underscores the need to discuss how best to measure the performance of virtual schools.

The mobility of these students and the resulting effect on academic performance must be taken into consideration when designing accountability measures for virtual schools which can impact state funding.  

These hard facts remind me of Reach Cyber students like a current high schooler, an accomplished Team USA karate athlete who will graduate early due to our school’s accelerated pace options; a 2019 senior who was physically and verbally assaulted by brick and mortar classmates because of his sexual orientation but graduated ahead of schedule in Reach Cyber’s first graduation class; and recently two seniors who were able stay in school and earn their diplomas while taking care of their newborn thanks to Reach Cyber’s flexible schedule. This unique environment has helped all of these individuals and more thrive as young adults. 

Additionally, claims regarding charter schools impact on districts are misleading. Funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Education has always been granted on a per student basis, so funding follows each student, no matter which public school — brick-and-mortar, charter, or cyber charter — they choose to attend.

When it comes to education, we find that families choose cyber charter schools because we meet them where they are. We bring the school — and all its flexibility — to students across Pennsylvania, and it’s imperative that any conversation about change in public education funding be inclusive of all considerations.

— Jane Swan is a school leader for Reach Cyber Charter School.