Georgia Cyber Academy Shows Weak Results, May Close

(Photo: Public Domain, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Public Domain, Creative Commons)

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has conducted an investigation on the Georgia Cyber Academy, an online school that evidence suggests is not meeting performance expectations.

Since it's one of the biggest online charter schools in the country (with 13,000 students) it receives tens of millions of dollars each year, and yet its results don't seem to measure up.

The GCA promises to "individualize [students'] education, maximizing their ability to succeed" by allowing students to log in from home, message teachers and fellow students, and do assignments all over their internet connection.

However, the school is not reaching state averages on everything from standardized test scores to graduation rates, reports Ty Tagami. The commission that chartered the school may shut it down as a result.

The GCA earned a D rating for 2015 from the Governor's Office of Student Achievement. The graduation rate was at 66 percent, 13 points behind the state average. 47 percent of its third grade students could tackle grade-appropriate books compared to the state average of 52 percent.

In response to these accusations, the school's leaders and supporters say that they face many unique challenges, such as many of the students already being behind when they enroll.

The classroom sizes are also usually large, ranging from 50 to 70 students, because the school gets less funding because there are no buildings to maintain or transportation to provide.

Attendance tends to suffer as well since many students choose to watch recorded lectures later.

GCA shows a high turnover rate, with one in four students leaving each year, according to the school's founding head Matt Arkin. He says that since it takes a year or more to adapt to an online classroom, students still getting used to the new format are lowering the school's averages. When only the students who attend the GCA for all four years are included in the statistics, they become much better.

Others note that the charter school fills a need that other schools couldn't. Families send their children to the GCA because of a desire for the student to learn at an individualized pace, a medical condition that keeps the child from attending a traditional school, or a need for a flexible schedule for budding actors and athletes.

Since its opening with a few thousand students in 2007, GCA has become the state's largest public school with students from all 159 counties. In the 2015 fiscal year, it received $82 million in state and federal funding.

The State Charter Schools Commission, which was founded in 2013 so that charter schools didn't have to be started through school districts, authorized the academy for the 2014-2015 school year. Previously, it had operated under the Odyssey Charter School in Coweta County.

The State Charter Schools Commission requires schools to meet academic, financial, and operational goals in three out of the first four years of their operation. The GCA did not meet these standards its first year, and therefore if it does not meet the standards this year– which are still being calculated– it may be shut down.

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