Pennsylvania’s lineup of eight “cyber charter” schools appears set to shift next fall with the entry of a new online school run by a subsidiary of Baltimore-based Sylvan Learning Systems Inc.—and the exit of the most controversial of the state’s online charter schools, Einstein Academy.
Commonwealth Connections Academy Charter School plans to enroll 400 students in grades K-8. It is the first online school that the state department of education has approved under revisions to the state charter school law that took effect last June.
Einstein Academy, meanwhile, has lost an appeal to the state on the revocation of its charter.
Before the changes to the law, cyber charters were governed by the same 1997 law that allowed school districts to issue charters to brick-and-mortar schools. Under the 2002 revisions, the state education department was granted sole authority to grant charters for virtual schools in the state.
Pennsylvania’s cyber charters have generated protests and litigation from school districts and education groups, in part because the schools draw students—and money, under the state’s school funding formula—from districts all over the state. And questions have lingered about the costs and quality of the online schools. (“Pennsylvania Report Examines the State’s Online Charter Schools,” Nov. 7, 2001.)
Connections Academy, a division of Sylvan that also runs online schools in Colorado and Wisconsin, will manage the new cyber charter. The division is in the process of being spun off, with other Sylvan K-12 education units, to a new company, to be called Educate Inc.
Commonwealth Connections Academy plans to offer a K-8 program of “balanced offline and online activities,” said Barbara Dreyer, Connection Academy’s president. Each child will have a computer, all the lesson plans will be online, and teachers will conduct some lessons online. Other learning activities will involve computers, using programs stored on a CD-ROM.
The director and nine teachers to be hired for the newly approved school will be located in a facility in the Harrisburg, Pa., area, with other teachers—called “curriculum specialists"—based in Baltimore, Ms. Dreyer said.
All members of the teaching staff will have Pennsylvania teaching certificates, she said.
She said the school might pick up some students who were formerly enrolled in Einstein Academy, which on May 14 lost its appeal to the state charter school appeals board of a decision by the Morrisville school district to revoke its charter.
The revocation of the charter was based on Einstein’s alleged financial mismanagement and inadequate services to students needing special education, among other grounds.
Officials of Einstein, which once enrolled more than 3,000 students, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that they would now appeal to Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court.