Commentary: Philadelphia Virtual Academy exemplifies the District’s double standard on renewal applications
Locked into negotiations with charter schools over quality standards and renewal requirements, the School Reform Commission ignores this inconvenient truth: At Philadelphia Virtual Academy, the District’s own cyber school, the SRC has done nothing to hold itself accountable for a school that, by any rational measure, fails miserably to educate its students.
If PVA were a charter school, it would be up for renewal this year. And if it were judged by the same rigorous standards that the SRC sets for charters, PVA would have a very difficult time earning a renewal.
Launched by the School District in the 2013-14 school year, PVA utterly fails to meet the academic, organizational and fiscal goals that the District routinely demands for charter renewals.
Look at the evidence: On the state’s accountability system, known as the School Performance Profile (SPP), PVA earned a score of 34.5 out of 100. Only 10 District schools of any kind have a lower SPP score.
Student achievement in math and English actually decreased over the last year, and PVA failed to meet the state’s growth measures in any subject. Additionally, PVA has a cohort graduation rate of 19 percent – just one in five students earns a diploma – compared to a statewide average of 86 percent. Lastly, only 10 percent of PVA’s 12th-grade students meet the College and Career Readiness Standards on the SPP.
Even if we compare PVA’s academic performance to that of cyber charter schools throughout Pennsylvania, PVA’s SPP score – 34.5 – is lower than any of the state’s 15 other cyber charter schools.
Yet despite this abysmal performance, the SRC recently adopted a resolution to contract with the Chester County Intermediate Unit, at a premium cost, to “provide online educational services and supports for students enrolling in Philadelphia Virtual Academy … for the period commencing July 1, 2018, through June 30, 2021.” The SRC agreed to pay the CCIU $6.6 million a year, or about $14,400 per student, given the current enrollment of 462 students.
Interestingly, if PVA were a charter cyber school instead of a District cyber school, it would only cost the School District about $4.5 million a year. So why is the SRC allowing this educational travesty to continue, and why is it forcing taxpayers to pay a $2 million annual premium for the privilege of letting PVA continue to operate?
It certainly can’t be to save money, even though that is the argument the SRC uses to suppress the growth of brick-and-mortar charter schools. And it can’t be because of PVA’s educational program, which is among the worst in the commonwealth.
Could it be that PVA gets a whole new lease on life simply because it is owned and operated by the District, which, having created PVA, is loath to admit its own double standard when it comes to accountability? If that’s true, then the District’s hypocrisy is stunning: It forces charter schools to endure a rigorous year-long renewal process that strictly limits the operator’s ability to grow, yet at the same time it pays a premium to outsource the education of PVA’s 462 students to a suburban provider with a miserable record of performance at the school.
At the very least, the PVA renewal should raise questions about the credibility of the SRC when it comes to renewals for charter schools. More importantly, the PVA debacle highlights the need for Philadelphia to create a system of accountability that prevents children from being stranded in failing schools of any type.
David Hardy is the founder and former CEO of Boys’ Latin of Philadelphia Charter School, and he serves as a senior adviser to Excellent Schools PA.