Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cybernots - the schools that boldly went nowhere

February 20. 2013 4:07AM
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Call them Cybernots, exploring the new world of Pennsylvania public education.

Pa. Secretary of Ed. Ron Tomalis denied eight cyber charter school applications Monday, citing multiple deficiencies. Along the way, he helped reverse the image of Gov. Tom Corbett's administration as overly eager to move public education out of traditional school districts and into alternatives.

The press release is here, and the individual notification letters to the school organizers are here

The most interesting bit for me was in the third-from-last graph in the press release: An additional factor in the denials is that many of the applicants proposed to use learning centers in a way that blurred the line between a brick-and-mortar and cyber charter school

You can get a much more detailed explanation of this in some of the letters. I glanced through the letter for Akoben cyber charter (attached here) in Philly. The salient part begins at the bottom of page 4 under the subhead The applicant did not provide information to establish proper use of physical school facilities.
Cutting through the jargon, the state is essentially pointing out that cyber charters are supposed to have an extra-special emphasis on the cyber part. Physical buildings are to be ancilliary- administrative offices,say, or for supplemental services such as tutoring, counseling or taking standardized tests. And even then, those services have to be equally available to all students - if a kid can't get to the physical destination, the school has to send someone to a location the kid can reach.

Cyber students, by definition, shouldn't have to travel regularly to a central building. Back in the day, we called that defeating the purpose.

Akoben - which for me somehow summons Batman's Arkam Asylum, or Harry Potter's Azkaban prison, but I'm sure that's a coincidence - proposed a physical learning center. Akoben's proposal also said it will focus on students in the Philadelphia School District, and during a public hearing of Akoben representatives said services would be available dependent on student proximity to a learning center.

Considering cybers are supposed to serve students anywhere in the state equally, that was enough red flags to crash the whole proposal. The state rightly concluded Akoben was blurring the line between cybers and brick and mortar schools.

Tomalis and the Corbett administration have taken plenty of hits on the apparent push to privatize education - including from me - but they deserve kudos for removing that blur and sharpening the line for all to see, then coming down on the right side of it.

Cyber charters that start narrowing the location for enrollment and setting up learning centers should be quickly shunted into the category of cybernots - never allowed to launch.

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