A Three-site Case Study of Cyber Charter Schools

Ahn, J. (2011). Policy, technology, and practice in cyber charter schools: Framing the issues. Teachers College Record, 113(1).

Article Review
Ahn presents a three-site exploratory, comparative case study which investigates policies governing cyber charter schools and teaching practices informing potential policy and research issues. Ahn begins with a thorough policy review regarding the role of authorizers and government, teacher policy, and student achievement and accountability. The data collection also includes interviews with teachers and staff in schools in three states: Minnesota Cyber Charter, Nevada Cyber Charter, and Pennsylvania Cyber Charter. Data were coded according to themes in practices, instructional model, roles of teachers and parents, as well as challenges of serving the students population of cyber schools, a unique group different from the brick-and-mortar generation. One highlight in the data analysis is that Ahn chose to write reflective memos (Creswell, 2007) to “integrate the data sources into a coherent line of thought”. Ahn’s findings imply that state policies vary regarding students’ enrollment and teacher certification requirement, which influences the instructional models in the three schools. Ahn’s study also incidates that compared with the conventional teaching role, teachers in cyber charter schools have more intense and individualized communication with families throughout students’ learning process. In conclusion, Ahn suggests policymakers and scholars to reconsider the broader role of teacher preparation, teacher policies, and certification programs in the near future, and future studies might need to cover the aspects of financial efficiency of and variations of instructions within different cyber charter schools across the country.

The study bridges policies and practices by exploring and comparing the policies and practices in three states. It let me think about that if students from online and brick-and-mortar environments are producing similar academic achievements and online schools actually provide better communication opportunities, do we still need conventional school models in the near future? It also reminded me of a school model in the recent news article posted by Professor Natriello: how about students learn academic subjects via online videos and have other social/physical/art activities in a physical school?

EdLab Connection

Technology should not just be a tool that assists in the reproduction of physical classes in an online learning environment. Research so far has not convincingly proven any significant difference of academic results between online and brick-and-mortar schools. Thus new questions come up to us: How to develop tools that might be more effective for K-12 students’ online learning? how to better help teachers track students’ distance learning process? We see the promise in tools such as Critter developed by the lab. Guided by the new questions, there are some next-step brainstorming ideas for the Critter team: How can Critter further help teachers to track each students’ activities? Can each student has an online database recording all their comments, time of navigation, etc. on the videos?