Jeff Sparagana, Ed.D, is a board member of Public Citizens for Children and Youth, https://www.pccy.org, an advocacy group for "quality health care, child care, public education and family stability."
In a recent article in The Mercury, "Cyber charters offer help, but have no takers," the Agora CEO wonders why no districts have come to them to launch their online learning programs. The reason is obvious. No school would want to replicate Agora's failures. The school bills itself as a strong alternative to traditional public schools that provides students with “personalized, innovative, intensive academic preparation that inspires and educates them to achieve their high level of academic knowledge and skill.” For most of the last decade, the school has consistently ranked as one of the worst-performing schools in the state. And in 2015, Agora hit rock bottom as the lowest-performing cyber charter school in the state and ranked 2nd from the bottom of the 475 public school districts in the entire state. During that year, less than a third of its 3rd graders were reading on grade level and its high school graduation rate was less than 47%.
And while it is no longer “the worst-performing school,” Agora’s improvements are hardly worth celebrating. In 2018, 95% of schools were ranked higher than Agora — the Pennsylvania Department of Education put it on a corrective action plan reserved for the poorest of all poorly performing schools. This is a reputation it has earned. Agora’s students score far below their peers in district schools on all measures of student achievement. Just last school year, on the PSSA’s — Pennsylvania’s standardized test for 3rd- 8th graders — only 32% of Agora’s students tested at or above grade level in reading and barely 10% passed math. To make matters worse, Agora’s abysmal graduation rate is less than 50%. For context, the state average is about 85%. Yet, despite its appalling history and performance, it is not only offering to “help” schools with its cyber programs, but it is also recruiting students for next year. Every community institution is struggling, yet continues to serve unconditionally during this crisis. Agora Cyber Charter school’s offer to assist public school districts with online instruction is certainly newsworthy. However, Agora has failed its students for over a decade. The aforementioned data clearly depicts why no public school district would ever accept help from Agora Cyber Charter school.