There are over a dozen public cyber charter schools in the state of Pennsylvania. Every cyber school has some unique characteristics to set them apart from each other. While comparing one cyber school to another, it is helpful for new families to use some benchmarks. Our blog will primarily focus on PALCS, which you can identify from either having “Leadership” in the name or going by “PALCS”, but these questions can help as you are comparing and considering any other schools.
As you look into cyber schools, four major differences set schools apart:
- Flexibility: How and when do you access a school site to do your work?
- Contacts: Who are your teachers, where are they, and how do you contact them?
- Curriculum: What materials are used, and what accommodations are available?
- Success: How are students in the cyber school performing?
Some cyber schools have a lot of real-time live lessons — spending most of your school day in a live webcam lesson with your teacher. Other cyber schools may have a very open schedule — students are able to work at their own pace, either taking a whole semester to do work or condensing quite a bit of school work into a very short period of time. As you are comparing schools, it is important to know how PALCS lands on the flexibility scale. We’re in the middle. We encourage families to check out our School Demo page to see some screenshots and examples of a routine day.
Over 15 years of operation, PALCS has established a fairly flexible schedule to meet students’ needs. Teachers pre-post lessons about a week in advance of their due dates, giving students about 7-10 days to do their work. Students must log onto our website at some point every Monday through Friday; there is not a set morning log-in time, nor do students need to track the length of time spent on our website. Students take the time necessary to complete schoolwork by the posted due date, and when finished, students may either log off when they’ve completed their work, or start working ahead on the lessons for the next day.
The daily flexibility at PALCS is balanced by clear due dates and scheduled live lessons. While students can work in the morning, afternoon, or at night, lessons must be turned in by 11:59 pm on the marked due date. We have progress checks and marking periods to keep students on track. We recommend families create a personal schedule that works for their lifestyles.
Some cyber schools might have teachers who work from home, or might have specific methods or times of contact. PALCS teachers work in-office from either West Chester or Pittsburgh and are available Monday through Friday during normal business hours. Our teachers work full-time for PALCS and are certified to work in any school in Pennsylvania. When students complete their schoolwork, they are viewing, reading, or interacting with lessons created by their teachers. Teachers grade lessons and give feedback. You’ll get to know your teachers at PALCS like a teacher in a traditional brick-and-mortar school; our teachers have their own styles and digitally decorate their online lessons like a classroom.
Every course has one live virtual lesson each week, which lasts 45 minutes. This is similar to a Skype session, where students are able to see their teachers and other students in the class, discuss school topics, ask questions, and learn new material. Live virtual lessons are offered at several different times during the week and are available as recordings. Students can certainly contact their teachers more often than this scheduled live lesson. But this one required live lesson per week per class helps keep students in touch with their schoolwork.
Students can choose to attend extra Lesson Help as needed. Similar to a college, PALCS teachers have clearly marked office hours where they are ready to meet with students for help on assignments. Each teacher’s schedule can be a bit different, but they’re always in-office ready to help! Families can email or message their teachers for quick questions, or hop into a virtual classroom for Lesson Help. Teachers have phone extensions and can set up parent/teacher conferences, as well. You can also learn about teachers on our bio pages.
Teachers create lessons to align to or exceed PA Core Standards. Families can explore PA Core Standards that apply to every public school in the state, including PALCS, through the PA Department of Education’s website.
Other cyber schools often use curriculum from one set publisher. PALCS does not use one particular publisher for course material. They instead use an internal curriculum review committee to select the best content for each course. At this time, we use mostly digital/online books and materials for our classes, though some courses may still have physical books, workbooks, manipulatives, or kits. Teachers pull in videos from external sources and from our publishers, and use educational games and websites to help students learn. PALCS teachers have a good handle on their course material, because they are helping create the lessons themselves. Families can review complete course descriptions on our curriculum page.
Lessons and courses are tiered for our students. The elementary level has lessons built on a three-tier system. This is similar to middle school and high school using on-level, college-prep, and advanced/honors/AP-level courses. Grouped according to their ability level, students can have different lessons based on their activity. Questions about advanced work or extra support may always be directed to a student’s teacher or guidance counselor.
On the independent school review website Niche.com, PALCS has been ranked the #1 cyber charter school in PA. PALCS has also consistently been a top performer among cyber schools for standardized testing results on the SAT and ACT. From year-to-year, PALCS has seen 78-83% of graduates go on to post-secondary education. Take a look at our statistics and a selection of colleges that accepted PALCS students from last year’s graduating class in our school profile.
As families are comparing cyber schools, we encourage them to do tons of research before selecting the best one that meets their needs. You can view a list of public cyber charter schools on the Statewide Cyber Charter Schools tab on the PA Coalition of Public Charter Schools website, or download a spreadsheet of all charter schools in PA, including both brick-and-mortar and cyber, from the PA Department of Education.
We also encourage families to read through our website or contact us to discuss your specific situation and why PALCS may be the right fit for your family! Online education may not be the right fit for everyone, but cyber school is certainly a viable education for many students. PALCS provides students with flexibility, an interactive curriculum, and highly skilled teachers who help challenge students in their education. Through a variety of clubs/field trips, PALCS students also create new friendships!