world war E
dispatches from the network society

cyber students in Pennsylvania

Reports of another salvo in the ideological and political battle between school choice and public education advocates discusses proposed legislation in Pennsylvania that would restrict autonomy and reduce funding for cyber-schools. Cyber-schooling is an innovative initiative in Pennsylvania that gives parents in low-income or poor-quality school districts the option of sending their kids to chartered cyber-school, keeping them at home and under supervision. The schools – which now serve 16,000 students statewide – provide households with internet access, computers, teaching and school materials – for about 75% of the cost of sending the student to a district school building. School choice advocates argue that the schools are cost effective and just as rigorous as district public schools – arguments supported by a 2001 review of the cyber charter program [more detailed information about the structure and content of cyber schooling is available in the report – note the finding that most cyber schools contract out curriculum requirements to third party vendors – no doubt a bonus for school choice advocates]. The review notes, however, that not all cyber schools are viable and only large institutions are able to amortize their fixed investment.

This document [PDF], prepared by the PA Department of Education, compares cyber schools in different states around the U.S.

While it seems inevitable that cyber-schools (formerly known as distance learning) will expand in scale and scope, it is probably also true that they will best serve particular educational niches (such as the needs of low-income students) rather than replace the ‘brick and mortar’ school experience that is central to many forms of socialization. The process raises broader questions about socialization in the network society, particularly in emergent virtual worlds, and it is yet unclear where and how cyber socialization differs from flesh and blood interaction.

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