Background: Online learning in K-12 education has grown rapidly in the past decade. Cyber charter schools (CCSs) have been a particularly controversial form of online school, but there is very little scholarly examination of these new organizations. As CCSs expand, policymakers and stakeholders have a critical need to understand how to evolve the charter school policies that govern these new school forms.
Focus of Study: Through a three-site case study, this paper (1) explores what current charter policies govern CCSs and (2) outlines the practices in these schools that might illuminate future policy needs. Specifically, the findings highlight how cyber charters problematize existing charter school policies in the areas of authorizers and governance, teacher policy, and student achievement.
Research Design: The study presents an exploratory, comparative case study. The exploratory analyses illuminate implications for how policymakers understand governance, teacher policy, and the evaluation of student achievement in cyber charters. The comparative case design also highlights how different state policy contexts might influence the practices of CCSs.
Conclusions: Cyber charter schools introduce new ways of delivering public schooling. The study shows how state leadership is vital to coordinate student enrollment across geographic boundaries, funding mechanisms, and conflicts between CCSs and established stakeholders. This paper also illuminates how teaching and learning practices differ in an online environment and introduces questions of teacher preparation and professional practices. Finally, CCSs in this study serve unique, niche student populations that opt out of the traditional school system. These considerations are vital for evaluating student achievement in cyber charters.