PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Cyber school is a way of learning that seems foreign to those of a certain age, but proponents says it’s right for certain students of a new generation.

“Is that the right environment for everybody? No,” Robert Fayfich with the PA Coalition of Charter Schools said. “Do certain students learn differently now than when you and I were in a school? Absolutely.”

Cyber education is exploding in Pennsylvania. There are now 12 schools and three more on the way as tens of thousands of students opt out of brick and mortar schools.

“Yes, it can be at least as effective and more effective in some cases,” Fayfich said.

But objective measures haven’t borne that out. A Stanford University study of eight Pennsylvania cyber schools found that all of them performed significantly worse than traditional schools in math and reading.

Of Pennsylvania’s 12 cyber charter schools, only three have made adequate yearly progress in the state evaluating tests — the PSSAs. School districts say we’re throwing good money after bad.

“Particularly at a time when everybody’s saying that public education’s costing way too much money for the return on the investment,” Ron Sofo with Freedom Area Schools said. “And when you look at the return on the investment of cyber charters, their return by the coin of the realm of PSSA test scores, is not there.”

There are 400 students at Allegheny Intermediate Unit’s PA Learners Cyber School, including Thaine Miller, who’s performing well.

“The teachers are very nice and the classrooms are good and everything’s really good about the school,” he said.

But PA Learners has never made adequate yearly progress where Thaine is the exception rather than the rule.

Director Linda Hippert says progress will take time.

“The large majority of the students have not been successful in their home schools, so they have not been successful in a traditional environment,” she said.

Cyber schools aren’t going away any more than computers are, but they have a long way to go to sway skeptics who say they’re costly and haven’t made the grade.

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