Online schooling has been around for decades in one form or another. Until the Covid-19 pandemic, however, the majority of K – 12 students in the United States had never experienced a virtual classroom. While this sudden transition to online was understandably difficult for both students and educators accustomed to traditional schools, many students discovered they preferred learning online at home over attending in-person classes.
With so many educational pathways out there, it’s important to understand your options before making a decision about your student’s K – 12 learning environment.
What is online school?
Before discussing the pros and cons of various schooling options, we first need to define what we mean when we refer to “online school.”
While there are a lot of different ways to learn online, online school is not pre-recorded lessons or self-directed courses that can be taken anywhere at any time. Online school, similar to a traditional school, has a set schedule with live classes taught by licensed teachers. Students attend online school with their classmates in a virtual classroom and are expected to participate and engage with their teachers and peers.
Online School vs In-person School
Online charter schools like Lumen Scholar Institute provide the structured education of an in-person public school in an at-home learning environment. The two biggest differences between online school and in-person are location and parents’ daily roles in their child’s education.
Students who attend online school do so from home and require a quiet, designated space in which to “go to school.” While these students technically do not attend class in person, all online classes take place in interactive virtual classrooms with other students and professional educators.
In regard to parents’ roles, online school parents are responsible for being home with their child and ensuring their child attends classes on time and with their cameras on.
Online School vs Homeschooling
Even though online school is done from home, it is vastly different from homeschooling. As mentioned above, online school is taught by licensed teachers in a classroom setting. Homeschool lessons, on the other hand, are typically taught by one or both parents and/or a hired tutor. Parents who opt to homeschool either purchase a pre-built curriculum or build their own lesson plans to meet state requirements.
Comparing Online School, In-person Public School & Homeschooling
Depending on your home environment and your student’s needs, the following information can help you weigh the pros and cons of online school vs homeschooling.
Online charter schools like Lumen Scholar Institute and in-person public schools are funded by the state and free to attend for all students. These schools have no tuition or fees and provide students with everything they need to attend classes from home.
Homeschooling, however, costs anywhere from $700 to $1,800 per child per year for the average family. These costs include the cost of curriculum, computers and other hardware, software, subscriptions, and other school supplies. One cost that is often overlooked is the possible loss of income for the parent educator, and families who employ tutors for some or all of their student(s) instruction can expect per child costs to be much higher.
Schedules and Flexibility
If schedule flexibility is a priority, homeschooling may be the right choice for your family. Homeschool schedules and curriculum timetables are set by the parent(s), meaning students “go to school” whenever and wherever best suit the student and their family. Likewise, homeschool students have more flexibility to learn at their own pace – faster or slower than their peers, as needed.
While online charter schools like Lumen give teachers more autonomy and resources to adjust the curriculum to meet individual students’ needs, classes are taught live at a set time Monday through Friday. Students must follow their class schedule and are expected to attend and participate in class online. In this way, online school is on par with an in-person public school where attendance is mandatory.
In-person K – 12 schools offer little in terms of schedule choice and flexibility, as all students follow the same general daily schedule and curriculum. Some public high schools offer advanced courses, concurrent enrollment, and career pathways, which give students greater flexibility in their educational options and class schedules.
GED vs Online High School Diploma
Some students who struggle within the traditional in-person high school model may opt to take the High School Equivalency (HSE) GED® Test instead of finishing their diploma in person. While the GED is now widely accepted at colleges and universities, certain branches of the military may or may not accept a GED and some employers still favor applicants with high school diplomas.
For students looking for alternatives to in-person high school, an online high school diploma may be the perfect option (vs taking the GED). Online high school gives students the opportunity to continue their education from home – and even provides options to jump start their future through concurrent enrollment or career pathways.
Activities, Experiences & Social Opportunities
Many in-person schools provide students with options to participate in a variety of electives, afterschool clubs, sports teams, arts programs, and more. Likewise, online schools have hands-on learning activities, in-person labs, online interest groups, outdoor excursions, and social outings during which students learning from home can spend time with their peers.
Homeschooling, by nature, doesn’t have these opportunities built into its structure. Homeschool parents can join or create homeschooling groups or pods to provide their students with socialization opportunities; however, the depth and breadth of these experiences are dependent on parental effort.
While there are many other factors to consider when deciding on the best learning environment for your student, weighing the pros and cons of these basic differences between online school, in-person school, and homeschooling can hopefully get you started in the right direction.