Is Online Public School Right For Your Family?

Online School Requires High Parental Involvement. Compassionate Eye Foundation via Getty Images

If you ever wanted to be able to get the best of both public school and homeschooling combined, an online public school could be the right fit for your family.  Over the last decade online and virtual school student enrollment has increased dramatically.  The state of Florida now requires students to take some of their courses in the online platform.  Other states have also hopped on the digital learning bandwagon, with hopes of offering a wider selection of courses to more students while reducing the number of teachers hired and paying for building costs.

The promise of reaching more students for less money has been very enticing to school districts across the nation.  Districts have a variety of options to choose from when opting to deliver online courses.  

This has created new choice options for public school families.   Generally, the main way a family decides which school their children will attend is by where the family lives.  Online schools can reach students in a much greater physical area than their brick-and-mortar (regular schools in a building children go to each school day.)  in other words, families that had little choice where their children went to school now have more options.

How can you be sure that online school is a good option for your family?  I thought I knew the answer to this question before my daughter enrolled into a second-year foreign language class through the virtual school option offered by our new school district.

 My daughter had completed Chinese I in a brick and mortar school her freshman year of high school.  We moved to another state the summer before her sophomore year.  The new school did not offer the second year of Chinese in the regular classroom.  Her school counselor suggested my daughter continue taking Chinese, since it is available through the new school district's online school.

(She is technically enrolled in two schools within the district.)

At the same time, my cousin Ashley decided that she wanted more of a homeschool experience for her children.  Ashley didn't want to have to pick out curriculum and still wanted her children to earn regular grades.  Ashley enrolled her children into a state online charter school, which also happened to be the vendor for my daughter's Chinese II class.  Our experiences have had some similarities and some major differences.  We both had some surprises with online school.  

Ask me what I think would make a family right for choosing online schooling, and here are the answers I would give you:

You Can Be Involved AND You Like Being Involved In Your Child's Education

Online and virtual schooling require a surprisingly high level of parental involvement to be successful.  Do not think that you will be putting your child in front of a computer, where they will sit and learn on their own without you.  Even if your child enjoys computer gaming, they will still need your oversight and involvement.

I was required to attend a parent orientation for my daughter's high school class.  In the orientation, I learned how to log into my parent profile.  This profile is the place I go to see what work my daughter has completed, how much time she has spent on her work, how to contact her teacher, and do everything a teacher would do that is not actually teaching the material.  I follow attendance and help with on-site technical issues.

Ashley had two elementary school age children who were working at two different grade levels.  Ashley had to print out material, read material to her children, show them how to submit work, and more.  She told me she felt like she was doing two days worth of teaching each day, as she had to sit with each child one on one to coach them through their school work each day.  Although Ashley likes being involved, she simply wasn't able to be involved at that level all day, five days a week.

You Are Comfortable With and Have Access To Technology 

The requirements for most online schools list merely a modern computer with common operating systems and internet browsers.  Sometimes schools will even loan or give you a computer to use for the online school.  The things is, different courses and assignments sometimes just assume that you may have some equipment that wasn't on the requirement list.  One of my daughter's assignments required her to print a worksheet, hand fill it in, and then scan and send it back to her teacher.  Fortunately, we have a scanner/printer.  It wasn't on the list, though!

Ashley encountered times when the school programs simply weren't' working as expected.  She wasn't as familiar with the programs that were required to complete the school work.  It took time for her to learn how to access online resources and how to turn them in.  This took time away from her being able to coach her children for their school work.  

Are you comfortable sending e-mails with attachments?  Do you know how to save different types of files, and what file name extensions are?  Do you know how to compress files?  Do you have reliable internet access?  Being successful in online schools requires already being knowledgeable about using computers.  

You Want The Homeschool Life With A Public School Curriculum And Support

Public online school is not really homeschooling.  Homeschooling requires the parent to choose what the child will learn and when, and to choose materials themselves, without support from the public school system.  Online school provides materials and follows state standards for what children learn.  While many online schools can tailor a child's education, it is often the speed and depth that are varied rather than what grade and what material a child will learn at all.

If you want the public school curriculum but want your child to gain greater independence, have more freedom in their schedule and spend more time at home with family, this could be a good option for you.  

You Want Your Kid Home With You All Day

Remember, if your child is in a fully online school, they will be home with you all day long.  You will not get a break from them.  While you may love your children dearly, it can be challenging to be around someone all day long every day.  Be prepared for this.  If you let out a big sigh of relief when the school year begins because you can finally get a break from your children, you should evaluate what you would do differently having them home all day during the school year.  Granted, you would hope they are busy with school work, but they will still be there.  

You Know How Your Child Will Stay Socialized

Homeschoolers will tell you that their children are well socialized, and they are right.  Their children are well socialized because their parents have made sure to provide opportunities for socialization.  Will your child have neighbor children to play with when school is over?  Will your children be involved church or community groups where they will meet other children?  Homeschoolers often form groups or even connect with each other to provide socializing for their children.  If your children do not already have a group of friends they can maintain when the go to online schooling, be sure to provide opportunities for face-to-face socializing.  

You Can Handle Tech Support Calls

All of the technology involved in getting an education fully online means that your chances of having a technology issue increase.  Be prepared to spend some time learning new systems and contacting tech support over problems.  Some people really cannot handle this stuff.  If you are are one of those people, don't do online school  You will bring way too much stress on yourself.

Your Child Is Self Motivated

Your child is the one who will be doing the work learning and completing assignments.  The only person around to make sure that they actually stay on task is you.  A remote teacher in virtual platform is absolutely powerless to make sure that your child sits down at the computer to work instead of visiting with friends on social media or playing games.  Even though you will need to be involved, you won't be the one doing the work. 

Some children really aren't motivated to do school work because the rewards from learning are not always immediately tangible and obvious to the child.  Online public school is based on mostly intrinsic rewards of good grades, pride in completing work and approval from family.  If your child is not motivated by these rewards, they will have little reason to do their work, and they won't do it.

If your child is self-motivated, online schooling can provide the opportunity to work at their own pace and refine their work ethic .

If You Have Multiple Children, You Know How You Will Handle The Online Schooling

My cousin Ashley told me that she was not able to have both children working on their school work at the same time.  If she had a second computer or was able to plan ahead and make sure that she had one child working independently on printed out worksheets while she read a listen to the second child, her experience would have been much better.  Since Ashley was working with each child one on one, she burned out quickly on online schooling.  

Parents who have small children that are not school age at home can also find that they are disrupted throughout the time they are coaching their online schooling child.  Having a plan and being prepared for how you will handle all of your children throughout the school day will make sure that the school work and learning are completed.

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