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District Cyber Schools vs Cyber Charter Schools

By: Amy Dajczak on April 19th, 2024

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District Cyber Schools vs Cyber Charter Schools

About Cyber Education  |  Insider Perspectives

Cyber schools have certainly come to light in recent years!  During the COVID-19 pandemic, families searched and learned about new avenues for their students.  These unique pockets of learning were rediscovered by many and greatly appreciated.  It was during these times that families realized their power in school choice.  As a result, school districts either amplified or developed their own cyber schools.  Families are again torn as they search for the correct path for their students.  In this article, we will review the two types of cyber schools and their merits to help sort out the differences.


District Cyber School


District cyber schools have gained more momentum over the years.  Before COVID, school districts noticed many students using their school choice rights.  These students were moving over to cyber charter schools and diverting their funding away from the districts.  In response, district cyber schools were developed using asynchronous and blended learning models.  Teachers were hired for these programs or asked to run virtual and brick-and-mortar settings simultaneously. They run with accredited platforms and curricula while governed by the district. Each district has its own spin on the programs.  While some of the basics are covered here, you may want to dive into your specific district’s requirements for further detail.


District cyber schools tend to have high standards for entry.  For example, the Reading Virtual Academy will not accept students who are currently failing their core classes.  It also requires that students read on level and have a history of adequate attendance.  Schools like the Lancaster Alternative Academy offer flexible virtual learning for various learners.  However, schools like this one enact an 8-week trial period, where the student is evaluated for continuous success. This particular district cyber school also requires that students maintain a C grade or higher.  The Philadelphia Virtual Academy, established in 2013, provides virtual education to grades 6-12.  They have four levels of learning, including AP and honors classes.  All district cyber schools explicitly state the need to be enrolled in the school district before submitting an application for the virtual alternatives.  If students are moving to the area or switching from a cyber charter school, families must submit all necessary paperwork to enroll.  Students who graduate from the district cyber school will walk at their home school’s graduation ceremony. 


Cyber Charter School


Pennsylvania cyber charter schools have been growing and developing since 1998.  These virtual teams of teachers, specialists, supervisors, and administrators work solely to ensure students' success in the virtual setting.  They provide both synchronous and asynchronous learning opportunities.  Cyber charter schools receive funding from local school districts.  This allows for free tuition while supporting school choice.  More details on this concept can be found in our article, Can I Choose What School My Child Goes to in Pennsylvania?” The importance of school choice is seeing additional force as yet another cyber charter option opens in 2024.  Cyber charter schools must adhere to specific standards set forth by the state to obtain and maintain their charter standing.  Schools such as PA Virtual Charter School received their most recent charter in 2019 and must demonstrate specific qualities to renew it five years later. 


You must provide specific documentation when enrolling in a cyber charter school such as showing proof you are a resident of the state of Pennsylvania.  Students aged 5 to 21 can enroll, but students registering for kindergarten must still meet the age requirements of their local school district.  Student attendance and discipline reports will be reviewed before approval. If your student is switching to a cyber charter school due to expulsion, they must return to their local school district after the expulsion period. An example of cyberschool documentation can be found here.  Schools such as PA Virtual Charter School will provide stipends to help pay for a secure internet connection.  An additional amount of money is reimbursed for travel for PSSA testing, which is still a component of the public school system.  Students who graduate from a virtual charter school will walk with their peers at a ceremony hosted by their charter school. 


All Cyber Schools


Whether you choose district or charter, cyber schools have requirements that must be met across the board, such as all students needing a learning coach. This learning coach is responsible for overseeing their education by ensuring there is a consistent internet connection, timely attendance, communication with the teachers, and work completion.  A learning coach monitors students' time management skills and works with teachers on instructional content. A sample of learning coach responsibilities in a district cyber school can be seen here,  while the learning coach’s day in a cyber charter school is listed here


Students must follow a specific curriculum set forth by the school they are attending.  If the student is fully asynchronous, they will pioneer through the lessons at their own pace, along with the support of their learning coach.  Meetings will be required with their teacher to review necessary content or time management needs.  The synchronous learning model requires students to log into a live classroom for learning.  They also move through a set curriculum, paced by their primary teacher/teachers and supplemented with additional resources.  Both models require adequate grades to avoid probation and consistent attendance to avoid truancy. 


Each model offers opportunities to interact with peers outside of the virtual environment.  The district cyber schools invite students to attend established clubs, athletic programs, and field trips. Many also offer virtual clubs for the students to participate in.  Cyber charter schools develop their own virtual clubs, such as Art club, Dungeons and Dragons, coding, and chess. You can find a full list of clubs PA Virtual offers here. Cyber charter schools also offer Friday school outings.  These outings allow students to meet up with their peers and interact with teachers from the school.  Both environments offer the staple National Honor Society and National Junior Honor Society. 

The decision to employ your right to school choice is commendable.  If you feel that this virtual move is right for you and your student, please begin researching your specific school district’s requirements. You can also request information about PA Virtual’s education model if you think that may fit your family’s needs.  Move forward into one of the cyber charter schools of your choice, and take note of the engrained, well-developed programs they have built over the years.  Regardless of your choice, we hope your student finds success and a powerful love of learning.