Please Join Today!
view counter

April 2013 Vol. 20. No. 5 Focus on Getting to Graduation

Theme articles

Cybers emerge as a 2nd-chance option for students

With over 5,000 students in Philadelphia and 32,000 statewide, the sector is drawing more scrutiny.

By by Connie Langland on Apr 15, 2013 01:46 PM
Photo: Harvey Finkle

ASPIRA Bilingual Virtual Charter School is based in ASPIRA’s headquarters on North Fifth Street in Hunting Park. Students come in for tutoring and special education services.

For Michelle Melendez, the distractions at her local high school were too much. She was not getting her work done; she was doing poorly. “I was a troubled child,” she said.

So she enrolled in the ASPIRA Bilingual Virtual Charter School in the fall of 2011 – the school was brand-new then – and she says she has no regrets.

“A lot of people think it’s easier than regular school, but you have to do your work. You do learn. … You get to your goals,” said Melendez, 16, a junior.

For students at risk of falling behind or dropping out, one of the state’s numerous cyber schools can serve as a second-chance high school. Cybers have been growing in size – and also coming under increased scrutiny over their academic results.

Students’ reasons for enrolling are understandably varied. Each young person has his or her own story: being bullied, fears for safety, pregnancy and child care issues, poor academic records, in need of make-up credits, being over-age.

The ASPIRA school offers grades K to 12, but more than 100 of its 138 students are in grades 9 to 12. Despite its name, coursework in the upper grades is in English; bilingual studies are offered in the early grades. 

“This is a valuable option,” said Sheila Ramos, the school’s counselor. “These students are in situations where they can’t go to a brick-and-mortar school. “

School director Lucila Paramo said the program draws students who are independent and motivated. 

“They tell me the coursework standards are higher than at their regular school. It’s not easy. The program is designed in such a way that you cannot continue to the next topic until you show you understand what you’re learning now,” Paramo said.

All but four of the 22 seniors who completed the program last year graduated, she said. By a recent tally, the school was overseeing coursework for 30 students in ninth grade, 30 in 10th, 27 in 11th, and 19 in 12th. Most students are from Philadelphia.

Officially, the cyber’s state graduation rate for 2011-12 is listed as 56 percent. The state does the calculation by tracking a cohort of students who entered high school four years before. Some of the cyber’s students – who may have missed or repeated a year – entered high school then and so are part of a cohort that should have graduated by now.

The ASPIRA program is small compared with the largest cyber education providers in Pennsylvania – and students can enroll in any of them, without consideration to district or city boundaries. As of February, the providers serving the largest numbers of Philadelphia students in grades K-12 were Agora Cyber with 2,857; Commonwealth Connections Academy, 915; Pennsylvania Cyber, 446; and Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School, 417. 

Superintendent William Hite has announced plans for the District to open its own online-only charter for Philadelphia students to minimize the amount of funds it pays out to the other cybers, which last year approached $48 million for nearly 5,000 students. The number of students now tops 5,600.

The state has 16 cyber charter schools serving more than 32,000 students this year. One of the newest, Solomon Charter School Inc., of Philadelphia, is facing revocation by the state for several violations of charter school law.

The online schools have come under fire for poor performance, including low graduation rates. None of the 12 cybers in operation a year ago met federal academic performance targets for the year.

The graduation rates reported by the state for some cybers are particularly low for students classified as economically disadvantaged (see chart).

To address the issue, the 21st Century Cyber Charter School, among the stronger-performing cybers last year, added two to three months of online tutoring specifically for its economically disadvantaged students. The result was to raise the graduation rate about 10 points, to 48 percent.

This year, those students have been receiving the extra help all year long, according to 21st Century’s director, Jon Marsh. The school for grades 6 to 12 is run by the Intermediate Unit education agencies for Bucks, Chester, Montgomery, and Delaware counties.

Area high school students have been hired to do one-on-one tutoring with their online peers – a Downingtown student tutoring calculus, for instance. In addition, he said, each teacher is a “learning coach” to a group of students. “This is more than home room. The coaches really nurse the kids through the process. We are really reaching out to those kids,” he said.

Yet many students who enroll in cyber schools withdraw, an attrition trend that Marsh is researching in pursuit of a doctorate in educational leadership at Drexel University.

“There’s a lot of in and out in cyber schools,” Marsh said. About 25 percent of students withdraw, with most of them returning to their home schools, he said. In the last two months, 64 students left his school, among a student body totaling about 800. “Twenty-five percent is a pretty solid number. Everybody is having the problem,” Marsh said.

Almost invariably, he said, students enrolling in the upper grades come after falling off track to completing their education. “They are coming to us behind. Very few come to us on pace to graduate. If they were on pace, why would they leave their local school?”

On a recent day, Melendez was at the ASPIRA school’s headquarters on North Fifth Street, sitting at a big round table with Isaiah O’Hannon, 17, also a junior. She was studying geometry; O’Hannon was working on an earth science chapter. Both were using ThinkPad laptops: cyber schools typically provide a computer and computer connection to each student upon enrollment.

“Going to cyber school, you can get away from a lot of stuff – it’s not like you have a teacher in the classroom yelling at other students to pay attention. And it’s less boring – you don’t have to sit through classes being bored, you just get your work done,” said O’Hannon. 

At the same time, “you really have to put your head to it,” he said. “It’s been pretty difficult because you don’t have any teachers standing in front of you, keeping you on task. You have to learn to manage your time, go to the websites. You have more responsibility than in regular school.”

O’Hannon left Olney Charter High School, where he was unhappy, last spring, enrolling for cyber courses on the recommendation of a counselor. 

But he said he may opt for a regular high school next year. “I’m more of a hands-on person. I’m not so much self-taught,” he said.

Melendez said she was quite happy sticking with cyber classes. “If you are responsible and do your work every day, you can do the study guides and finish faster,” she said. “It’s been a good opportunity for me.”

About the Author

Connie Langland is a freelance writer who covers education issues in Philadelphia.

Comments (34)

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on April 15, 2013 4:04 pm
No cyber charter in Pennsylvania made AYP...last year - none. Many have been involved in scandals. A public school doesn't make AYP and its off with their heads. Cyber charters don't make AYP and the state says give them another chance. All those cyber ads filling the internet at tax payers expense give a false impression that cybers are doing great when they are not.
Submitted by Darryl Johns (not verified) on April 15, 2013 5:01 pm
The Cyber Charter model is a low cost model for delivery of public education. It appeals to politicians because of its cost and critical use of other words it sounds sexy. However, the very design of these schools appears unstable. Student turnover seems very high when compared to traditional schools. That turnover adversely affects their AYP scores. We should allow limited experimentation of this model, not a full blown implementation by multiple vendors. Having said that though, given that Cyber Charters are compensated the same as brick and mortar schools, it makes sense for the Philly School District to compete with it's own Cyber implementation. The District could drive down costs while maintaining revenue, at least for the 5,000 student cap proposed. This will not improve the quality of education provided, but it will meet the politicians' goal to reduce the cost of delivery.
Submitted by Education Grad ... on April 15, 2013 9:59 pm
Cyber charter schools and brick-and-mortar schools function very differently. There are certain aspects of the brick-and-mortar environment that a cyber charter school cannot replicate. Namely, social interaction and the interaction that being in a human environment provides is absent from cyber charter schools. Children need interpersonal, face-to-face interaction---this is part of healthy child development. Cyber charter schools remove this interpersonal interaction component from education and this is not a helpful move when trying to form young people in how to develop positive relationships with others. Education Grad Student
Submitted by Private Schools Australia (not verified) on April 16, 2013 9:05 am
Cyber education presents unique challenges in the delivery of instruction, studies must be performed to prove the success of cyber charter schools.
Submitted by dariuselena (not verified) on April 11, 2014 7:43 am
I think the ones up a big opportunity for young people who don't have the means to go to regular school. There are a lot of cases in which they have to work or have such huge responsibilities for their age that they can't afford the time to go to regular class.
Submitted by king (not verified) on August 29, 2014 11:04 pm

The result was to raise the graduation rate about 10 points,bilingual studies are offered in the early grades. We are really reaching out to those kids.

Submitted by Million Accounting Software (not verified) on January 6, 2015 7:28 am

Business marketing software greatly cuts down on the customer of person error that offer accounting utilizing some recoverable component, this means you are likely to show you how to access details inside of a few keystrokes. Million Accounting Software

Submitted by (not verified) on March 1, 2015 5:35 am

So she enrolled in the ASPIRA Bilingual Virtual Charter School in the fall of 2011 – the school was brand-new then – and she says she has no regrets. aimersoft video converter ultimate

Submitted by rogeryolires (not verified) on March 16, 2015 6:54 am

The ASPIRA school offers grades K to 12, but more than 100 of its 138 students are in grades 9 to 12. Despite its name, coursework in the upper grades is in English; bilingual studies are offered in the early grades. Nutrisystem fast 5

Submitted by jhonny77 (not verified) on April 16, 2015 6:17 am

You have done excellent work and I think the ones up a big chance of adolescents who don't have the method for go to frequent university. In this website i found so many posts regarding education which is very good point.

Submitted by Anonyasdmous (not verified) on June 30, 2015 4:04 pm

Positive site, where did u come up with the information on this posting? I'm pleased I discovered it though, ill be checking back soon to find out what additional posts you include. formacion universitaria

Submitted by Anonyasdmous (not verified) on July 2, 2015 5:29 pm
This is such a great resource that you are providing and you give it away for free. I love seeing websites that understand the value of providing a quality resource for free. It is the old what goes around comes around routine. Seguridad del bebé
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 14, 2015 11:47 pm

This is a great inspiring article.I am pretty much pleased with your good work.You put really very helpful information. Keep it up. Keep blogging. Looking to reading your next post.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 16, 2015 9:02 pm

hi was just seeing if you minded a comment. i like your website and the thme you picked is super. I will be back.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 22, 2015 3:18 am
I high appreciate this post. It’s hard to find the good from the bad sometimes, but I think you’ve nailed it! would you mind updating your blog with more information? rinjani trekking
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 24, 2015 4:54 pm

Awesome article! I want people to know just how good this information is in your article. It’s interesting, compelling content. Your views are much like my own concerning this subject.

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 24, 2015 5:34 pm
Great write-up, I am a big believer in commenting on blogs to inform the blog writers know that they’ve added something worthwhile to the world wide web!..
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 25, 2015 1:23 am
Thanks for sharing nice information with us. i like your post and all you share with us is uptodate and quite informative, i would like to bookmark the page so i can come here again to read you, as you have done a wonderful job. rinjani trekking package
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 25, 2015 3:36 am

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well.. this article

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 25, 2015 3:54 am

I would like to thank you for the efforts you have made in writing this article. I am hoping the same best work from you in the future as well.. this article

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 25, 2015 4:38 am

Good website! I truly love how it is easy on my eyes it is. I am wondering how I might be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your RSS which may do the trick? Have a great day! Get More Info

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 25, 2015 6:01 am
Thanks for taking the time to discuss this, I feel strongly that love and read more on this topic. If possible, such as gain knowledge, would you mind updating your blog with additional information? It is very useful for me. see this website
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 25, 2015 4:10 pm
I can set up my new idea from this post. It gives in depth information. Thanks for this valuable information for all,.. see this website
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 25, 2015 12:01 pm

Hello I am so delighted I located your blog, I really located you by mistake, while I was watching on google for something else, Anyways I am here now and could just like to say thank for a tremendous post and a all round entertaining website. Please do keep up the great work. this article

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 22, 2015 3:49 am
Yes i am totally agreed with this article and i just want say that this article is very nice and very informative article.I will make sure to be reading your blog more. You made a good point but I can't help but wonder, what about the other side? !!!!!!THANKS!!!!!! rinjani trekking
Submitted by concorso (not verified) on May 2, 2015 1:55 am

This is the type of details that needs to be given and not the accidental misinformation that is at the other blogs. Appreciate your sharing this greatest doc.

Submitted by mayazoe (not verified) on May 23, 2015 4:43 am
wow, great, I was wondering how to cure acne naturally. and found your site by google, learned a lot, now i’m a bit clear. I’ve bookmark your site and also add rss. keep us updated.


Submitted by Anonyasdmous (not verified) on June 19, 2015 3:50 pm
This content is written very well. Your use of formatting when making your points makes your observations very clear and easy to understand. Thank you. bubble soccer equipment
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on June 24, 2015 9:49 pm
Thanks for sharing this quality information with us. I really enjoyed reading. Will surely going to share this URL with my friends search engine optimization
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 2, 2015 3:13 pm

It’s appropriate time to make some plans for the future and it is time to be happy. I have read this post and if I could I wish to suggest you few interesting things or advice. Perhaps you could write next articles referring to this article. I desire to read even more things about it! online

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 7, 2015 5:24 pm
Wow i can say that this is another great article as expected of this blog.Bookmarked this site.. search engine optimization services
Submitted by JackJelly (not verified) on July 9, 2015 4:37 pm

It's a new life in education. Cyber classes are connecting both student and teacher easily. craftbukkit

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on July 16, 2015 9:37 am

So she enrolled in the ASPIRA Bilingual Virtual Charter School in the fall of 2011 – the school was brand-new then – and she says she has no regrets. clothing manufacturer

Submitted by jamesbrown (not verified) on July 22, 2015 9:54 am

Nice to read your  article! I am looking forward to sharing your adventures and experiences.

being the man every girl wants

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.

By using this service you agree not to post material that is obscene, harassing, defamatory, or otherwise objectionable. We reserve the right to delete or remove any material deemed to be in violation of this rule, and to ban anyone who violates this rule. Please see our "Terms of Usage" for more detail concerning your obligations as a user of this service. Reader comments are limited to 500 words. You are fully responsible for the content that you post.

Table of Contents

Read the latest print issue

Philly Ed Feed


Public School Notebook

699 Ranstead St.
Third Floor
Philadelphia, PA 19106
Phone: (215) 839-0082
Fax: (215) 238-2300

© Copyright 2013 The Philadelphia Public School Notebook. All Rights Reserved.
Terms of Usage and Privacy Policy