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Pa. education secretary rejects all 8 proposed cyber charters

By Benjamin Herold of NewsWorks, a Notebook news partner on Jan 28, 2013 06:37 PM

Pennsylvania Secretary of Education Ronald Tomalis rejected on Monday all eight cyber charter school applications pending before the state Department of Education.

The schools had hoped to serve a total of almost 10,000 Pennsylvania students at a projected cost to taxpayers of roughly $350 million over the next five years.

In a statement, Tomalis cited both academic and financial concerns as reasons for the denials.

“The proposals submitted by the applicants lack adequate evidence and sufficient information of how prospective students would be offered quality academic programs,” Tomalis said. “In addition, the financial plans presented call into question each applicant’s ability to maintain a long-term, viable educational program for the benefit of Pennsylvania students.”

Cybers, like brick-and-mortar charters, are publicly funded but independently managed. They provide mostly online instruction to students in their homes. Pennsylvania already has 16 cyber charter schools serving over 32,000 students. None of the 12 cybers in existence last spring met their federally mandated academic performance targets for 2012.

The rejections are “a good initial decision," said Education Law Center executive director Rhonda Brownstein.

"But, as we saw last year,” she added, “the department rejected seven applications in January, only to approve four of those applicants in June after they re-applied.”

This year’s applicants may also resubmit their applications, or choose to appeal their denials.

Brownstein said her group still supports a moratorium on any new cybers and continues to call for the state Department of Education to “carry out its duties under the law and close down the existing cyber charters that are not meeting state standards.”

The state’s leading charter school organization offered a cautious response to Monday’s announcement.

“We support the decisions, as long as the department is applying consistently fair and high standards,” said Robert Fayfich, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition for Public Charter Schools.

Two of the proposed cybers are affiliated with K12 Inc., the nation’s largest for-profit operator of online public schools. State Budget Secretary Charles Zogby is a former executive at the company.

K12 has recently come under fire for questionable academic performance in schools using its curriculum. The company is also the subject of a class action lawsuit from shareholders who allege that CEO Ronald Packard and another executive concealed information about K12 schools’ high rates of student turnover. 

Two of the proposed cybers with Philadelphia ties were rejected for the second consecutive year.  Mercury Online sought to contract with for-profit Mosaica Education to provide extensive management services, while Akoben Cyber Charter proposed to become the “first African-centered cyber charter school in America.”

The state has posted the denial letters online.

One factor in the rejections, Tomalis said, was “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.”

Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite had raised the issue as a point of concern in testimony submitted to PDE during hearings held in November.

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Comments (10)

Submitted by walkaway (not verified) on January 28, 2013 9:25 pm
Great news!
Submitted by Pseudonymous (not verified) on January 28, 2013 10:05 pm
Now, just cancel all of the existing charters for these scam factories.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 1, 2013 8:56 am
I have worked as a history teacher at both a traditional high school and now an online charter. Do we need to overhaul Pennsylvania's current education funding laws. Yes! Do we need to level the playing field. Yes! My school has hit AYP four of the past five years. Not sure if that's a scam? Saying all Charters are bad based on a few schools, would be like saying all 500 tradtional school districts in Pa are "Scams." Tell that to the students attending military academies who recently graduated from my school. Tell that to the students who are attending universities such as Duke, Brown and American just to name a few. The biggest scam in Pa education is the so called "last one in and first one out rule." Yes, we are telling families that in Pa it's better to have a teacher that's taught longer, then a teacher that may be the best at his/her job.
Submitted by LIFO (not verified) on February 2, 2013 1:52 pm
Last in, first out is protection against "best" being defined as synonymous with "least expensive" (Don't pretend you haven't heard the argument that "what is best for students is what is least expensive for us" recently) As a GENERAL rule, more experience IS synonymous with being better at one's job (in most fields of work). (yes, there are exceptions - but I will submit to you that teachers with 15+ years of experience that are not ideal workers are carryovers from times in VERY recent history that NO ONE else was looking to take their positions; less than 10 years ago the district had 100s of vacant positions year after year on day one of each school year; economy being bad has changed that... unfortunately, when the economy inevitably turns, we will return to that scenario BECAUSE the district - and you - focus efforts on driving the bad out rather than retaining the good). Young teachers I've worked with who I would classify "best" have left the district by choice, rather than through layoff. We need to get better at sending the message - "thank you for your service; you are awesome; we want you to continue working with us" in place of "your kids failed that test again - you aren't superman you suck".
Submitted by Carlene (not verified) on April 30, 2013 7:37 am
Could not agree more. We see almost no other profession where this rule applies. The reason for that? Because it produces failure much of the time.
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 30, 2013 9:01 am
The "last one in first our rule" was originally created by our General Assembly and written into the Pennsylvania School Code many years before there were ever teachers unions in Pennsylvania. It was enacted because "on balance" it is the least bad and fairest way of laying off teachers because of "budgetary reductions." It is what is known as a "prophylactic rule" designed to protect teachers from wrongdoing. Our General Assembly realized that without such a rule teacher layoffs would be based on "political considerations" and not based on who are actually the best teachers. Favoritism, nepotism, retaliation, and First Amendment retaliations would proliferate without such a rule. That is the way things were before that rule was established and that is what will return if that rule is abandoned. There is no conceivable way to fairly and objectively rate teachers across schools and across classes. Any teacher who is incompetent or has given up and failed to meet their obligations and responsibilities as a teacher can be fairly removed under the present system. There would be absolutely no need to apply that rule if it were not for the forced closings of our regular public schools. Reductions in staff are never in the best interests of any student and they are almost always unnecessary.
Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on February 2, 2013 3:11 pm
Maybe, it's just me, but I think you need to get some sleep.
Submitted by Carlene (not verified) on April 30, 2013 7:03 am
Submitted by Rich Migliore (not verified) on April 30, 2013 8:33 am
Carlene, I am not a union member, but have 34 years experience in Philadelphia as both a teacher and administrator and have served our community in many leadership positions including PFT Building Rep and delegate. I have now spent the last few years as a researcher of the best practices in school governance, leadership and organizational dynamics and practice education law and civil rights law. A well functioning teachers union is an "absolute necessity" of a well functioning professional educational system. Most all of the protections for students in the school district can be found within the PFT contract such as class size and other working conditions mandates which enable teachers to teach. Unions certainly are in the business of "solving true educational issues" and what is best for students. In my 34 years of experience it has always been "the teachers" and their unions who stood up for the "best interests of the students." All of our highest performing schools and all of our special schools and programs were conceived by teachers, founded by teachers and administrators and facilitated by our unions.
Submitted by morris (not verified) on May 9, 2014 1:59 am
Education is very essential in our life. Without education our life is clay. By education we can able to know our self and our inner qualities. Make career or get success in our career is possible through education, talent and skill. Coaching and training also become very common way to learn or getting the right path of our life. Life Coaching Florida

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