Homeschooling and online school can seem very similar at a first glance. They’re both an alternative or complement to traditional schooling. And while they share some commonalities, it’s their differences that will affect a parent’s choice. So, how do they differ and why does that matter?
Homeschooling is a type of education that is parent-led and home-based, as the name suggests. Parents decide, for reasons we’ll discuss, that traditional schooling is not the best option for them, and take their children’s education into their own hands. There is some freedom for the parent to build their own curriculum, though in some states there’s mandatory testing that will condition what’s taught.
Online school, also called virtual school or cyber school, is an umbrella term that refers to an educational service whose content is shared only through virtual means. This can include public and private online schools, university sponsored-schools, credit recovery programs, and any sort of specialized education that might be hard to find in your area.
This specialized education can include upper education like nursing school and law school, and also education in subjects like language and music.
The modern homeschooling movement started in the 70s, because of a rejection of the public school curriculum.There were two major groups that backed it: one more staunchly religious, whose members rejected traditional schooling due to an incompatibility with its evangelical protestant beliefs; and a secular one, whose participants simply believed a home education was academically superior to a brick-and-mortar school.
Throughout the 80s and 90s, these groups acted together to legalize homeschooling; they organized, lobbied, and pressured policymakers. Because of their efforts, homeschooling went from being considered truancy, to being legal in all states, minimally regulated and with limited data collection obligations.
From the mid-90s on, with the internet, homeschooling grew, mainly because of the increased accessibility of materials and the growing connection between individuals and homeschooling communities, no matter how physically isolated.
Currently, about 2% of US school children are homeschooled, which is over one million people.
Online SchoolAs you’d probably expect, online school is a bit more recent than home school, because it requires widely available technological equipment for its proper operation.
There was a slow start to online school in the 90s, and exponential growth after that, because of the technological revolution that proceeded. Pretty soon people started realizing the accessibility and saving potential of online schooling, which led to its growth.
With the halt that the coronavirus pandemic brought to everyday life, online connection became increasingly essential. This meant that there was a significant increase in the quality of the necessary technology.
Why Choose an Alternative to Traditional Schooling?There are several reasons a parent might choose homeschooling or online school over traditional brick-and-mortar schooling.
Most parents justify their preference for homeschooling and online school as educational, and a minority cite religious reasoning.
Advantages and Disadvantages
If you’re still unsure about what route to choose, here are some pros and cons to each schooling option. Have in mind that there are some aspects in common between homeschooling and online school.
The first advantage of homeschooling is its flexibility and adaptability. The learning pace, methods and curriculum are mostly at the parent’s discretion, which means they can be adapted to each student. Often only one child in a family is homeschooled, meaning each family member is catered to according to their specific needs.
Homeschooling is cheaper than private schools, so a lot of parents dissatisfied with the public school options in their area can opt for homeschooling as a cost-effective alternative. However, there are still costs of material, curriculum, field trips and extra-curricular activities that can add up.
Another advantage of homeschooling is the opportunity the parents have to bond with their child one-on-one. The opportunity to connect with your child requires effort and opportunity, and homeschooling gives you that opportunity.
Homeschooling is an enormous responsibility for parents. Not everyone is cut out to be an educator, it’s a specialized and tiring job that requires a lot of passion for teaching. Besides, not even educators are qualified to teach every single subject on a school curriculum! The higher the grade goes, the more specific the knowledge necessary to accurately teach and test it. The fact that a parent might not be able to adequately educate their child to go into higher education is a cause of stress and anxiety that leads them to pursue other alternative schooling solutions.
Another big detractor from homeschooling is the sheer time it takes off a parent’s day. It is common for a stay-at-home parent to take on these responsibilities, but not every family can have this arrangement.
While homeschooling can be a great way to connect with your kids, it can also be lonesome for them to not interact with same-age peers. Ensuring they have friends, perhaps in extra-curricular activities, is essential for their happiness.
Finally, a possible lack of a high school diploma can be an issue with homeschooling. While there are certain certified programs that do give a highschool diploma, that’s not always the case. In order to enroll in most colleges or join the workforce, an external exam is necessary. There’s some extra bureaucracy in the transitional period after high school for a homeschooled child.
There are some strengths in common between online school and homeschooling. Flexibility is one of them! A lot of student-athletes, musicians and performers choose an online school in order to pursue their passions and finish their studies. A lot of older students who need to work also choose online schooling. This flexibility is more limited than with homeschooling — educators are not available 24/7, for example.
A distinguishing feature of homeschooling is the use of qualified teachers. The specific knowledge these teachers have means that students are more likely to understand the subject, and even get support to go beyond and research further. Their training and passion for teaching are likely to set up your kid for success, which should ease any anxiety homeschooling parents might have.
When compared to a brick-and-mortar school, online school has no maintenance or cleaning costs. Therefore, online schools have the potential to be cheaper. However, it is on the family to guarantee a calm and safe learning environment, as well as a stable internet connection. This is not something that every family can guarantee.
The time a parent saves when choosing an online school is immense. It is definitely a better solution for working parents.
At last, in online high school a student gets a high school diploma at the end of their studies, which helps in the transition to college or the workforce. In case they do choose to go to college, they’re also more likely to have guidance over the college application process, making it a less scary and more accessible process.
The term “online school” can mean several things. A public, charter or private online school will wildly vary in quality according to different factors like funding, which company is sponsoring the school, what kind of experience and qualifications teachers are required to have… For example, the learning platform Outschool requires thorough background checks on teachers, but there’s no legal requirement for any non-public school to use any platform over another.
Because online schools can be used as a temporary alternative to brick-and-mortar schools — if a student is suspended, for example — the withdrawal rate in online schools is much higher than in traditional ones, and enrollment levels are ever-changing. This means it can be harder to ensure a standard of quality within online schools — particularly high schools.
Online schools can also rely more on external factors for motivation and accountability. Often they ask parents to still be highly involved in their child’s education, calling them “learning coaches”. There’s also a significant proportion of self-paced courses that can be hard for students to complete on their own. To overcome this potential issue, it’s important to search for curricula with engaging teaching exercises and assignments, that ensure your kid’s attention is on their education.
It’s important to understand why these issues pop up. Online schooling has gone through a massive growth that legislation and regulation has not caught up with. However, the responsibility of researching good online schools falls on the parent, and this is not a simple task. If you’re in this situation, look for online schools that use a trustworthy platform, search the school’s critiques and testimonies, reach out to students and parents, and see if you can do a trial class.
Tip: If you’re more interested in researching more about academic studies done on how distance learning and in-person learning compare, here’s a meta-analysis on the subject.
Homeschooling and online school are both alternative schooling methods. They’re the best option for some children who do not thrive in traditional schooling or are simply looking to learn something that’s not physically available to them.
Each option has its advantages and disadvantages. The main goal for every parent is to be able to equip their child with enough tools to face the world on their own. While some parents are more than capable of educating their own children, it’s also ok to realize your own limitations and act accordingly.
It takes a village to raise a child, and educators are an essential part of that village.
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