VIRTUAL SCHOOLS ARE ON THE RISE Virtual schools are popping up all over the country as more and more families are pulling their children out of public school to homeschool. In 2016 there were an estimated 2.3 million homeschoolers in the US, and according to the National Home Education Research Institute (NHERI), that number is growing by about 2-8% (https://www.nheri.org/research-facts-on-homeschooling/). North Carolina has one of the largest homeschool populations in the US where the number of homeschooled students now surpasses the number of students enrolled in private school.
With the rapid increase in home education is the demand for more learning options. While this is certainly beneficial for the homeschool parent, it can also be overwhelming. Instead of having a few standard curriculum choices, there are now a plethora of options, including online schools.
When I first started homeschooling, I decided to use an online charter school that functioned much like a public school, but could be done entirely from home on a laptop computer (provided by the state). The initial appeal for me was having a laptop, printer, materials, an online instructor and grading all provided for me. As a first-year homeschool mom with a husband in graduate school, this seemed the ideal way to go, both financially and academically. I wanted to ensure I had everything I needed for my son to do well and I believed at the time, this was my best option.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
Most virtual schools (or all that I am aware of anyway) are not homeschooling, but rather school-from-home. I didn't know there was a difference when I started homeschooling. Virtual schools take what is taught in a public school setting ( the brick-and-mortar approach) and bring it to you via an online program. That may not be all bad, you might think, but knowing what I know now, I would not want to re-create school in my home. The joy and beauty of homeschooling is having freedom and flexibility with your schedule, with what is taught and how it's taught.
Virtual schools determine the schedules, lessons & curricula, and will not allow you to progress or slow down based on your child's academic level. When we were enrolled in the online cyber charter school, my son was forced to continue lessons that he had already mastered and was not allowed to move ahead. (What made having to complete those lessons even worse were the strange, depressed looking comic characters speaking in a monotone voice).
I was also disappointed with the amount of time that was required (of my then 2nd grader) to be on the computer. One of the reasons I withdrew my son from public school was the lack of physical activity my son was getting. For a young boy, he needed much more action that sitting indoors at a desk the majority of the day. Traditional homeschooling gives you the freedom to do lessons outside, read from actual books (rather than online texts), learn in motion, and experience learning in ways that are enriching and inspiring! The virtual school we were part of had my son sitting at the computer to do all of his lessons with the exception of some math workbook activities and science experiments, and it was flat-out boring (not just for him, but for me!)
Another aspect I realized I wanted was a curriculum that taught values from a Christian perspective. As you know, God has been removed from public schools, and the public/charter cyber schools are no different.
SOME BETTER OPTIONS
While I'm not a fan of virtual schools, I don't dismiss all online education. There are many online schools, curricula and resources that provide excellence in education while providing more options, flexibility, and faith-based learning. Here are some examples of ones we have personally used or that have been highly recommended by my close friends:
WHAT TO CONSIDER BEFORE DECIDING ON AN ONLINE SCHOOL
Most of the public online charter schools are similar in fashion with some minor differences. Some have live instructors, others are purely taught through the program. Some require a full day on the computer, while others only half that. Some allow you to withdraw halfway through the year if you desire, but some require you finish out the year with them, for example. Think about what is important to you, how your child will learn best, and what values you want to instill in your child. Does the school match up to what you want? Ask the online school questions and get recommendations ahead of time so you know what you're getting into before you decide. And no matter what online coursework you choose, be sure to have parental controls, and put your computer in a place where you can see your child's computer screen. Sadly many children have stumbled upon graphic mature content innocently while doing school work. A filter we use in our home and recommend is Covenant Eyes.
SUPPLEMENTAL ONLINE RESOURCES
If you're not looking for an entire online school program but wish to use the internet to supplement your homeschool teaching, here are some resources that we have used and enjoy! Several of them are either free or have online deals going on right now!
So, are virtual schools a trusted choice? It depends on who you talk to. I personally do not trust any online public school to give my children what I desire for them. It's something you will need to think about and decide for your family. And in all cases as I stated earlier, please make sure to safe-guard your computer and any internet device your children will be using. I'd love to hear what internet resources you're already using that you love! Feel free to post them in the comments below so everyone can benefit from it :-)