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Ask Jeanne: Online Homeschool Program?

Ask Jeanne: Online Homeschool ProgramsThe first few weeks of school this year haven’t gone well for Cheryl, and she wrote to me for help deciding whether to homeschool her 7th and 11th graders who are in negative school situations. Her question had two parts, one of which was about online homeschool programs. I wanted to answer that specific part of her question in greater detail:

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I have never homeschooled and I need advice. I thought of doing the online homeschool called <name of virtual public school withheld>. Please help!

Considering an online school is common for people in your situation, Cheryl, because it seems like an all-in-one package deal that would smoothly and comprehensively take the place of school.

Online Public School or Online Homeschool?

It’s important to realize that many online programs like the one you mention are not online homeschools; they are online public schools. To put it bluntly, they are not homeschooling. They are public school at home.

This may seem like semantics, but the distinction is important.

I’m not an expert on education in your state, but I can see that this online academy’s own website refers to it as a “K-12 online public school.

This matters because if an online program is public school at home, you have to follow public school rules rather than homeschool laws. Mandatory testing and assignments may be quite stressful. This may not give you the curriculum, flexibility, customized learning, or reasonable workload that your kids need.

If you are trying to get away from problems that are caused by school curriculum or constraints that are in place because of public school requirements, an online public school may not help.

If you are trying to get away from problems that are caused by school curriculum or constraints that are in place because of public school requirements, an online public school may not help.

You need to talk to independent homeschoolers in your state (not just the people who are using the program or administrators enrolling students in the program) to find out how using the online public school compares to actual homeschooling in your state. Some online public schools are more flexible than others.

Pros and Cons

I’ll be honest, in general, I’m not a particular fan of online schools for the situation you described in your original email to me. Online public schools frequently do require the kind and amount of seat time that will make a 7th-grade boy squirm and lose focus, which was something you mentioned in your original question. I wrote “beware virtual school packages” in my article about how homeschooling can help kids who have attention challenges.

An online public school may still provoke your daughter’s workload stress. Parents of homeschooled kids can guide their children’s education based on mental health and emotional well-being as well as on academic achievement, but kids in public school, online or not, may face the continued pressure to keep up and make the grade.

There are many instances of negative reviews for online public school programs from homeschoolers because they may replicate so many of the problems of public school, but now the parent is on the front lines dealing with the kids and the curriculum delivery.

When you homeschool independently, not through an online public school, you have freedom, within your state’s homeschool laws, to completely customize the learning experience:

  • You can go faster or slower.
  • You can homeschool much more efficiently, in just a few hours a day.
  • You can homeschool much more effectively, through the lens of your child’s interests rather than through someone else’s agenda.
  • You can have a 7th-grade boy learn from projects and mentors and experiments and field trips instead of spending most of his time sitting in a chair reading a real or virtual textbook. He can help choose his own math program and work on it at times that fit him best.

Many people choose online public schools because they are free to the parent, funded by taxpayers through state departments of education. “Free” sounds good, but using taxpayer funds is why they come with all the strings attached. The rules are meant to make sure that the taxpayer-funded education follows the same standards and rigor that are in public education.

Personally, I think that’s a flaw, not a feature, but I’m the kind of homeschool mom who has facilitated lots of messy projects and is comfortable helping my kids with college prep. I would rather have my kids enjoy learning than follow a curriculum.

That said, there are some pros to online public schools, and they may outweigh the cons for you:

  • Online public schools do solve school problems for some families, especially if the problem is related to the child’s physical presence at the school–bullying, long bus rides, low expectations, a chronic teacher shortage, or something else that is tied to the bricks and mortar school.
  • They are helpful if kids have extreme interests or hobbies that are time-consuming, and they need to check off standardized school work while spending hours doing competitive gymnastics or something similar.
  • They may work well for kids who are highly motivated to get out of negative school situations while also being a good match for sit-down-and-study learning from textbooks and online resources.
  • Returning to a bricks and mortar school may be easier because the credits from an online public school may transfer.

There are also kids who flourish on the straightforward structure of an online public school. They like skipping the school commute, and they like working primarily online. Their parents like that the curriculum is provided and the expectations are clear.

There are satisfied families and students who are using online public schools. It might work for you.

Not all online public schools function the same way. You need to be clear what the distinctions are from homeschooling in your state, and then decide whether online public school is “different enough” from your kids’ current situation to solve their specific problems, without making things worse. I’m glad this option is available, and I do read reviews and hear from people who like online public school. However, I also hear from many people who left online public schools after a year or two and became independent homeschoolers, because online public school was too restrictive and did not solve the problems that caused them to leave their local school.

Online Homeschools

Just to make things more complicated, in some states, there are also online schools, courses, and programs that aren’t public schools–and there are charter schools that may not use the same kind of standards-based online curriculum we have been talking about here. These will also come with their own sets of pros and cons, as well as their own distinctions in each state. You’ll also hear the terms “virtual school” and “cyber school.” Homeschoolers do sometimes use some of these programs part or full-time, so it’s important to understand which ones are public schools and which are not.

Again, depending on your state’s laws, this might make your kids “officially” homeschooled students, private school students, or charter school students, even though they all might be learning at home. This is why TheHomeSchoolMom doesn’t advise on state-specific issues; there are too many possibilities!

Do your homework by doing online searches for reviews of the online school you are considering.

Talk to current homeschoolers about what they have heard about online public schools in your state.

Join Facebook groups of homeschoolers in your state and ask questions about the online public school you are considering.

Good luck deciding on whether to homeschool, and if so, whether to use an online public school or online homeschool, Cheryl. Your children are fortunate that you’re concerned about their learning and their well-being.

-Jeanne

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Jeanne Faulconer

A popular speaker at homeschooling conferences, business groups, and parents’ groups, Jeanne Potts Faulconer has homeschooled her three sons in North Carolina, Mississippi, and Virginia. She is a former college faculty member, former editor and book reviewer for Home Education Magazine, a long-time editor for VaHomeschoolers Voice, and a recent news correspondent for WCVE, an NPR-member station. Jeanne teaches writing and literature for her youngest son’s homeschool co-op, and she is a student of how learning works – at home, in the music room, in small groups, in the college classroom, on the soccer field, and in the car to and from practice. Holding her Master of Arts degree in Communication, Jeanne conducts portfolio evaluations for Virginia homeschoolers for evidence of progress. To read more of Jeanne’s writing, inquire about a homeschool evaluation, or ask her to speak to your group, see her blog, Engaged Homeschooling.

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Comments

  1. Keisha Warren

    I am considering homeschooling very soon. When I withdraw my 10th grader from public school here in Georgia and the school asks what homeschool program or school I’m using, what do I tell them if I am the homeschool using various sources for my curriculum? Thank you.

  2. Sarah Longstaff

    I am starting with online school for my kids because I myself am having too many anxiety issues and there are too many homeschool options to cope with. What I like about Florida Virtual vs. brick-and-mortar is that it’s like one-on-one tutoring. The child or parent can text the teacher any time. For a child who has problems with memory and writing, online school is all typed, and the teacher’s lesson notes are all right there to consult. (More like college.) My son has problems keeping up writing notes in class. With Florida Virtual, it’s all there for him. Online teachers also use videos and interactive materials that work well for kids with writing problems. IEPs and 504 accommodations are not funded, schools are underfunded, and teachers overworked. Rather than arguing with the school, I’ve found that online school fits my son’s needs very well. At some point, when my own anxiety is dealt with, then I’m sure my kids will prefer less sitting and more variety. But for a first-time homeschooling mom or a parent of a kid with educational difficulties, I highly recommend virtual school as a good place to start. Your kid can also do online school at school–Florida schools have a room in the media center where kids work independently. My son LOVES his school drama teacher and his science teacher, who’s very hands on. Florida is really good for homeschooling because you can do lots of combos, taking PE at school, doing other classes at home, etc. Lots of people homeschool in Florida. So, good option for beginners.

    • Hi Sarah. I’m glad you’re finding virtual school a good fit for your family in Florida.

      I’m not sure what you mean by it being more like college because of the teacher’s notes being typed up and made available – that doesn’t sound like the recent college classes my kids or their friends have attended or the college classes I’ve taught!

      But, not having been in Florida, I may not be picturing accurately what you’re saying is available to your kids.

      In any case, Florida has somewhat more of a reputation of flexibility around some of its virtual schools, which is really different from the way it is in some other states. In some places, virtual school does not work very well for beginners because of the lack of flexibility.

      This is why we always tell people to talk with homeschoolers in their own state. You sound like you would give two thumbs up to virtual school based on your experience in Florida!

  3. Denise raulerson

    I sent a notice of intent form letter to the superintendent of our school system and I receive the certified return receipt requested stub back. do I have to wait 30 days from the time I sent the letter or can I go ahead and get a curriculum and get started homeschooling because I have the receipt return back to me from the superintendent

    • Hi Denise,

      The answer to your question will depend on your state’s law. You need to network with homeschoolers in your state or consult your statewide homeschool organization to find out how your homeschool Notice of Intent works with actually starting to homeschool.

      Not all states even require a Notice of Intent to Homeschool, so we can’t give state-specific advice! You have to find out your state law and abide by its terms.

  4. Thomas C. Spires

    Our civic organization historically pursued high
    achieving individuals as follows
    1. 35% community service and leadership
    2. 35% financial needs
    3. 25% GPA
    4. 05% neatness completeness of application
    For Scholarship awards we place 35% on th is quality. While it is true that some home-schooled students do very well academically, on the basis of conversations with home-schooling parnets their students have precious little experience with the level of leadership and community service that we are seeing with our honor society public students who apply. Given that Leadership and Community service represents 35% for scoring, the home-schooler has little chance of being selected and the justification for their being excluded form our program.
    My question is,. Does the home-schooled student have more access to leadership opportunities than we are aware?

    • Homeschoolers have amazing access to leadership opportunities, so I’d say YES, it must be more than what your organization is aware of. For example, two of my sons are Eagle Scouts, having spent years in Scouting learning and demonstrating leadership, service, and citizenship.

      In any youth organization or activity where there is a population of homeschoolers and a welcome for them, you will find homeschoolers actively involved. This includes 4H, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, church groups, Civil Air Patrol, theater, music, Model United Nations, and sports.

      It may be that in the community where your organization is offering scholarships, homeschooling families have not been welcomed or recruited into some of the youth organizations, or the homeschooling parents may not have understood the opportunities available to their kids.

      If you want to encourage homeschoolers to excel in the leadership and community service portions of your scholarship app, you might need to meet with local homeschoolers and let them know about your scholarship.

      Some homeschooling parents don’t think about scholarships until scholarship time, having preferred more time at home. Most of the homeschoolers I know, though, are out and active in these community orgs in leadership and service positions.

      Of course things may be more challenging in rural areas where “all things youth” may be tied to the schools. Even then, teens could get involved in citizen science projects (testing stream water quality, bird counts), helping with political campaigns, or organizing others to visit elderly or pick up trash.

      I can’t imagine a shortage of service and leadership opportunities, really. However, among both public school and homeschool parents, there can be a lack of foresight when there are so many things to do. If they are not aware of scholarship opportunities early enough, they may not be aware of what they need to help their kids do to qualify for the scholarships they will eventually want to apply for!

  5. This is a really important conversation and I think will become more and more common as technology inundates more aspects of our lives. I’ve been using an online curriculum with my son, and LOVE IT. It is not tied to public school, has courses a la carte, and is generally awesome. For teens, it includes classes in business and personal finance that are incredibly practical and engaging. You can check out my blog or message me for details.

    • As you know Lindsey, your use of online curriculum, with a la carte courses, is common among homeschoolers. Online classes can be such a great tool!

      However, what you describe is really different from enrolling in a total virtual school package that is administered with the same rules, standardization, and testing of a public school.

      I just want people to have their eyes open to the differences!

  6. Crystal Quinsee

    I am a mother of 4 aged 16, 9, 4 and 1 – The two elders I have decided to home school as recent as two weeks ago. I am feeling extremely challenged in this, I am SCARED and not sure where or how to start this. My 9 year old is Grade 3 and my 16 year old is Grade 9 – PLEASE HELP ME, URGENTLY ????

  7. Cheryl Allan

    Thank you so much for explaining. It is going to take time to see what works for us.

    • Sipokazi

      Same here! We are only withdrawing our kids this month and it’s easy to get overwhelmed with all the “stuff” that’s out there.

    • Yes! Sometimes you have to try things to figure out what will work or not for your family. I’ve tried, as much as possible, to write about this in a way that people can picture whether online virtual school will solve their problems, but sometimes reality is different from the way you picture the future!

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