By Corey Hess and Allie Margulies
INDIANA -- Cyber-schooling has its critics.
"I don't know why you would ever want to plug a primary student into a computer for their learning," wondered former Indiana Area School District Superintendent Kathleen R. Kelley in a 2004 newspaper interview. "Certainly, it can be an aid. But children are hands-on. They need to be actively involved in the learning process."
Anne Cope, mother of two cyber-schooled boys in Indiana borough, disagrees. Both of her sons - junior-high-school age Brendan and primary-school age Sam -- attend the Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School, based in Montgomery County. They attend online.
The boys used to be home-schooled, Cope said. But because of "Pennsylvania's strict home-schooling laws," Cope said she enrolled them at PAVCS in 2000. "I think PAVCS has a more difficult curriculum than public schools," Cope said in a fall 2007 interview. "And I know some home-schoolers who tried it but quit because they found it too demanding."
Cope acknowledged statistics that show a percentage decline in cyber-school test scores. But public schools may not be covering the lessons her sons are learning, Cope said.src="http://palwv.org/indiana/civic_project/AllieMargulies_sm.jpg" width="100" align="right" vspace="10" />
"Many of their public-school friends don't cover many of the lessons Brendan and Sam do," she said. "The cyber school has a stronger focus on literature, history and vocabulary. And I think they work ahead in math and science."
PAVCS teaches about 4-5 hours a day. Students must log in to record their attendance. All the work is accessed online but most work is done offline. The cyber-school routine is organized so families can follow a daily, weekly or monthly plan. The flexibility is designed for students who may need more time to work on an assignment or for students who can move ahead at their own pace.
As students get older, more online classes are offered, including live online interaction between students and teachers. If PAVCS students maintain an 80 percent grade average or higher, they have the choice to enroll in these classes. Students are required to communicate with their teachers through live online classes or through monthly conference calls.
According to Cope, cyber schools give the students more time to focus on the subjects that they struggle with before moving on to another topic.
Cope compared cyber schooling to home-schooling.
"It is closer to home-schooling in that there is much more freedom, less like home-schooling in that it is more structured," she said.
There are tangible advantages, too. Pennsylvania law says parents pay nothing for cyber schools, which provide everything from computers to art supplies.
Still, Cope acknowledged criticism of home- and cyber-schooling.
"One thing that we have found to be unfortunate in home-schooling is that there are a lot of misconceptions and the idea that it's weird," Cope said. "The biggest critics are often teachers who seem to take our choice as a personal rejection. Cyber schooling is even more contentious, as it takes funding from the school districts."
Cope also acknowledged concerns about the amount of social interaction that cyber-schooled students have with other children. The PAVCS Web site encourages students to attend annual field trips to local parks, museums and zoos. Cope said home- and cyber-schooled children can generally socialize better than traditionally schooled children.
"The biggest misconception is that home- and cyber-schooled students are not getting socialized," Cope said. "But they are often more social because they have been socialized in a broader range than just with peers. Many public school kids, especially as they get older, have a hard time interacting with adults and others outside of their peer groups. Home schooled kids are often used to interacting with people of all ages, and I have found often more outgoing."
Corey Hess, a senior Journalism major at IUP, is from Oceanside, N.Y. He can be contacted at C.T.Hess@iup.edu. Allie Margulies is a senior Journalism major at IUP. She can be contacted at A.J.Margulies@iup.edu. ______________________________________________________________________________
For more information:
Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School
One West Main Street Suite 400
Norristown, Pa. 19401 Web: www.pavcs.org
Other Pennsylvania Cyber Schools include:
21st Century Cyber Charter School
Achievement House Cyber School
Agora Cyber Charter School
Central PA Digital Learning Foundation Cyber School
Commonwealth Connections Academy Cyber School
Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School
PA Distance Learning Cyber School
PA Leadership Cyber School
PA Learners Online Regional Cyber Charter School
SUSQ-Cyber Charter School