There are similarities between online public school and homeschool. Students in both types of schools receive the majority of their instruction online. But that is where the similarities end. The legal status between an online public school and a homeschool are vastly different. Parental rights and responsibilities also vary greatly between the two methods.
Online public schools
The appeal of an online public school is the cost and the accreditation. With most public school at home options, the school district picks up the tab. Schools like Arkansas ARVA, provide free instruction and materials as well as a free computer and a stipend toward internet fees. From a parent’s standpoint, online public school makes a lot of financial sense. High school students who graduate from an online public school receive a state issued diploma.
Online public school is expensive—for taxpayers. Arkansas online public school, ARVA, spent over $36,000 per student in 2011-2012. Every taxpayer foots this bill through their state and local taxes. In comparison, the average homeschool spends under $1,000 per student. For those wanting an online school outside of a public school option the cost can be as high as $10,000 per student. If homeschools had a budget of $36,000 per student, imagine what could be achieved.
There is a downside to this school choice. As a parent, the type of curriculum and the subjects being taught are out of your control. Public school students are held to all truancy laws and mandated testing. Because testing is high stakes for public schools, they test several times a year prior to the benchmark exams in order to see what student performance is going to be. Teachers use the information in order to “teach the test.” Online public school students are required to test when and where the public school mandates. All students attending an online school are held to all local school district policies. This includes attendance. Parents will be required to show that students are making satisfactory progress. For kids who struggle, there is little remedial help available.
Another disadvantage to public school online is that many homeschool groups will not allow you to join because you are still a part of the public school system. Finding activities for your child may be difficult. Without a support group, many parents and students using the online public school option feel alone and isolated.
Legally the online public school student is a part of the local public school system. The child is held to all district rules and regulations. Parents who choose this option should not file required homeschool papers with the state, as they are legally not homeschooling.
Parents who homeschool have a wide variety of choices for curriculum. The parent is in complete control over the subject matter and how instruction is delivered. Homeschool children have the advantage of instruction tailored to their specific learning style. A child who is struggling with a subject can remain at that level until the subject is mastered. An online public school does not allow time for mastery. Children must progress at a specified pace or they become inundated with make-up work.
Homeschool kids with medical issues have the luxury of scheduling classes around medical treatment. An online public school does not allow for this, they are subject to the same attendance rules as the traditional public schools. Children with disabilities or kids with chronic or even temporary medical issues can take a day off with homeschool and have their entire schedule pushed forward for a day or two. Online public schools do not have that flexibility.
Unless you are way out in the sticks, there is a homeschool group near you. As long as you homeschool most homeschool support groups will welcome you. Students and parents who participate in online public schools at home are not welcome in homeschool groups or organizations like the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA.) HSLDA clearly states on their website that families who participate in online public schools are not eligible for membership.
Families who homeschool, including those who use online options that are not through the public school system are held to all state homeschool laws. All required forms should be filed on or before the deadline. Using an online school that is not a public school is considered homeschooling. If this is your situation and you have not yet filed your forms for 2013-2014, now is the time to do so without penalty. Parents who refuse to file the appropriate forms jeopardize all homeschoolers’ rights.
The decision to use an online public school is a personal choice. But, before you get lured in by the promise of free curriculum, consider the real cost. You may find yourself in a never-never land, caught between not being accepted completely by the public school system and having no support from the homeschooling community.
Lynda Altman has homeschooled her 4 children over the last 16 years and she continues to homeschool her youngest child. She believes that homeschooling is a parent’s G-d given right. Lynda writes a blog called Homeschooling When Mom has Cancer. Get notices when this page is updated by clicking on the subscribe link, by email, or contact Lynda @fusgeyer on Twitter.