Cyber and Home School Charter Schools: Adopting Policy to New Forms of Public Schooling
Peabody Journal of Education
Introduction Cyber and home school charters are quietly gaining momentumacross the country and are beginning to challenge traditional definitions ofpublic schooling by delivering instruction absent the traditional "brick andmortar" school house. Cyber and home school charters have emerged within awider charter school movement which in the last decade has quickly expanded toinclude 2,700 charter schools in 40 states and the District of Columbia, serving over 684,000students (Center of Education
... enter of Education Reform,2003). The appeal of charter schools is apparent in the dynamic growth of themovement, yielding a 40% increase in enrollment in the last 5 years, from1999-2003. A contributing factor to the increasing enrollment statistics is theoutgrowth of nonclassroom-based charter schools. Over the last 5 years anestimated 60 cyber charters have come on-line in 15 states, which currentlyserve over 16,000 students and account for 2% of the national charter schoolstudent population (Center for Education Reform, 2003). Adding to the abovefigure the 52,000 students enrolled in home school charters in California and Alaska, and the totalenrollment of nonclassroom-based charters increases to 10% of the nationalcharter school student population. Similar to traditional charter schools, cyber and homeschool charters are independent public schools created through formal agreementwith a state or local sponsoring agency, designed and operated by parents,community members, and entrepreneurs, and allowed to operate free from moststate and local regulations governing schools-including, staffing, curriculum,school calendar, resource allocation, governance, and school/classroom sizes(Finn, . What sets cyber and home school charters apart from traditionalschooling models is the non-classroom based instruction which students receiveoutside the confines of the traditional school house setting. Instruction isinstead delivered through alternative mediums, including: parents as primaryinstruction providers, computer-based instruction using pre-packaged softwareprograms, and teacher directed distance-learning or cyber learning of 43 4/1/2008 3:16 PM wherestudents receive either asynchronous or synchronous (real-time) instruction viathe internet from a teacher or other instructor. Cyber and home school chartersalso differ from traditional charter schools in the type of students they enroll,serving primarily students who were previously privately home schooled, anddrawing enrollment from wide catchment areas which cross district lines and mayspan an entire state. This paper seeks to illuminate how these alternativecharter school models are developing within the wider public school communityand the charter school movement. Our primary focus will be on California and Pennsylvania, where recent public scrutinyof cyber and home school charters has prompted debate among policy makers, educators,and parents, who have begun to reconcile the objectives of an expanding schoolchoice movement with the demands of public accountability. Our analysis willfocus first on the salient policy issues that have surfaced in several stateswhere nonclassroom-based charter schools are operating. In the second section,we trace the emergence of nonclassroom-based charters with a specific focus onhow states are beginning to draw legal and regulatory definitions of both cyberand home school charters. Our discussion will also outline the importantdistinctions between the two nonclassroom-based schooling models. In the thirdsection we present a comprehensive legal and regulatory analysis of recentlegislative changes in Californiaand Pennsylvania.The important legislative responses which have resulted from public debates inthese states, have affected the daily operation of non-classroom based charterschools, and have challenged the viability of sustaining these alternativeschooling models under the context of increased state accountability demands.