There may be other options.
This year has been a train wreck. Many of our kids lost weeks and months of schooling. Now the new school year is upon us and there is this insane push to resume in-person classes and student busing at a time when COVID-19 cases are continuing to rise. If your school district is planning to resume in-person classes and you’re nervous or torn about it, you should know that there may be other options.
Yes, homeschooling is one. And if you’re in a position and of the mental fortitude to do that, that’s a great option!
Cyber charter schools are another. They aren’t new, and they’ve gotten their fair share of bad press over the years—lots of years. They’ve also had all of those same years to refine and adjust their educational and teaching models, their software platforms, and their curriculum. There’s no scrambling to try to throw together an alternative model for distance learning because they have specialized in that very model for well over a decade.
It is not the same as outright homeschooling, though will require some parental oversight. Obviously, the younger the child, (or the less responsible an older child is) the more oversight is needed. But the curriculum is strong and multi-modal. Many of the cyber schools provide scheduled virtual classes, online clubs, and student support services as well.
I’m speaking from experience here. All of my children have attended a public cyber charter school at some point during their K-12 journey, for various reasons. One of them even graduated from one. They are all well-educated and productive members of society. I say that because online schooling (and homeschooling too) has always come with some negative assumptions, especially from the loudest detractors. School is not the only place where children learn social skills!
Even if it were, the risk versus benefit in these uncertain turbulent times would have me erring on the side of safety. I know not everyone sees it that way, and I can say with unwavering conviction that I have never before been so glad that all my children were done with K-12!
Cyber Schools in Pennsylvania
I’m in Pennsylvania, so I can’t speak to every state, and I think Pennsylvania may have more cyber charter school options than other states. There are, at the time of original publishing, 14 public cyber charter schools here (links to individual cyber charter schools added down below). They are public schools, which means your school tax dollars fund them and you pay no tuition or other fees to enroll. Of those, I have first-hand experience with six—three kids with a combined total of 36 years worth of K-12 education. We stumbled around a bit finding the right fit, and what was good for one wasn’t always good for another.
Attending online virtual information sessions and not being shy about asking questions will absolutely work to your benefit. Some use entirely online curriculum and texts, others use a combination of online instruction and tangible texts and workbooks. There is also variance by education level. Younger grades are more likely to have more hands-on project-based work and manipulative kits.
You should have an idea of your child’s preferred learning type(s). Some are readers, some are listeners, some are hands-on, some are visual. Though it’s been my experience that the cyber schools try to provide balanced opportunities for optimal learning across all of these.
Teachers have been wonderful and invested in going the extra mile to help them reach their full potential, including providing additional enrichment activities to enhance or expand learning beyond the required curriculum when warranted or requested, and have been quick to offer additional support opportunities with subject areas or concepts that were a struggle.
The cyber schools we’ve used have supplied all the necessary equipment and supplies: computers (mostly laptops); science and STEM kits, art kits, physical learning aids and math manipulatives, etc., and even stipends for partial internet reimbursement.
Nationwide Homeschooling Resources
If you’re considering homeschooling, or have already decided to homeschool, the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is your friend. To find out about laws in your state, visit their Home School Laws by State page. The site has a wealth of information on things like how to get started, state requirements, curriculum, grading, record-keeping, scheduling and planning, and even resources for finding homeschooling groups, support groups, and grant funding. Seriously, your best friend. HSLDA is a Christian-based organization, which may or may not be your thing, so take what you can use and leave the rest.
The National Home School Association (NHSA) is an all-inclusive organization you may also want to check out. Formerly known as the Home Learning Association, it is primarily member-based, but they do provide some useful resource links and information sans membership.
SecularHomeschool.com provides a list of secular homeschool support groups broken down by state, but I was hard-pressed to find a national resource site specifically for secular homeschooling that was anywhere near as wide in range and scope as HSLDA’s. There were many state and local level ones though, so I suggest hitting up Google (or whatever your favorite go-to search engine is) to find resources available near you.
Nationwide Cyber School Resources
Not all cyber school are created equal and there are wide variances from state to state in terms of requirements, regulations, oversight, and accessibility. The best place to find out is probably your state’s department of education website. It’s also the place where you can find information on how well they’ve been performing. Another option is to simply search “cyber school” and see what comes up, since the algorithms will likely return results relevant to your location.
The two biggest players on the national scale are:
- Connections Academy – now a part of Pearson, the world’s learning company. We have used a Connections Academy school in Pennsylvania and were very happy with it. In fact, my son graduated from it. The Learning Management System (LMS) was extremely user-friendly and intuitive, and the curriculum content was well-developed. Connections Education has public and private options, so you’ll need to see what is available in your state. I believe they also partner with some school districts as their online option provider.
- K12 – My experience with K12 is dated, but at the time we used them we were very happy with both the LMS and the comprehensive curriculum it provided. Check their website for options and availability in your state. They also have both public and private options and have partnered with some school districts as their online provider.
There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Do what you feel is best for you and your family!
Also be sure to keep an eye on your school district’s website, your post box, and your email inbox for updated information on their plans and procedures. I know at least one district in my area that is allowing families to make their own decision about whether to send their kids to school or have them use online only instruction provided by the district. Much better than requiring in-person attendance, but I’m wondering if they are extending those same options to staff and faculty whenever possible….
Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School Links
All of the schools on this list are tuition-free public charter schools in Pennsylvania (at the time of publishing). I list their headquarters or main office locations only as a point of reference. They all serve Pennsylvania students statewide, so you do not need to be located near their offices. You just need to be a Pennsylvania resident.
- 21st Century Cyber Charter School – Established in 2001 by the Intermediate Units of Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties. Serves grades 6 through 12. Offices in West Chester, PA and Murrysville, PA.
- Achievement House Charter School – Serves grades 7 through 12. Headquartered in Exton, PA.
- Agora Cyber Charter School – Serves grades K through 12. Main offices in King of Prussia, PA.
- ASPIRA Bilingual Cyber Charter School – Serves grades K through 12. Headquartered in Philadelphia, PA.
- Central PA Digital Learning Foundation Charter School – Serves grades K through 12. Offices located in Duncansville, PA and Stroudsburg, PA.
- Commonwealth Charter Academy Charter School – Serves grades K through 12. They have Family Service Center locations in Harrisiburg, PA; Johnstown, PA; Andreas, PA; New Florence, PA; Norristown, PA; Center City Philadelphia, PA; West Philadelphia, PA; Seven Field, PA (Pittsburgh area); Dickson City, PA (Scranton area); and Williamsport, PA.
- Esperanza Cyber Charter School – Serves grades K through 12. Main offices are in Philadelphia, PA.
- Insight PA Cyber Charter School – Serves grades K through 12. Powered by K12 curriculum. Main offices in Exton, PA.
- Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School – Serves grades K through 12. Founded in 2000 and headquartered in Midland, PA.
- Pennsylvania Distance Learning Charter School – Serves grades K through 12. Headquartered in Sewickley, PA.
- Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School – Serves grades K through 12. Founded in 2004 with main offices in West Chester, PA and a western regional center in Pittsburgh, PA.
- Pennsylvania Virtual Charter School – Serves grades K through 12. Founded in 2001 with main offices in King of Prussia, PA. Another K12 curriculum provider.
- Reach Cyber Charter School – Serves grades K through 12 and offers several grade pacing options (traditional, year-round, and accelerated). This Connections Academy school is headquartered in Harrisburg, PA.
- Susq-Cyber Charter School – Serves grades 9 through 12. Based in Bloomsburg, PA, they were Pennsylvania’s first cyber school.
[Links last verified/updated: March 2022]