A few weeks back when I finished my series on homeschooling methods, some of you may have noticed that the topic of cyber school, or virtual charter school, never came up. The reason for this is actually quite simple and is something that really needs to be understood by the general public: Cyber schooling is not homeschooling.
First of all, I’d like to address a few things. I am not referring to computer-based classes that some homeschoolers choose to enroll their children in. I am referring to the publicly funded programs that offer free computers, internet, and tax credits to the families who use them. I am also not looking down on those who do use this path of education because it is, no doubt, far better than most schools today. I’m not nit-picking about terminology, either. Believe me, I will get into why it is so crucial to distinguish between the two.
In my own experience, when I tell people we homeschool, they automatically assume I’m speaking of cyber schooling. Perhaps it’s because they’re a little more comfortable with it because there is a hierarchy involved like there is in brick and mortar schools. Perhaps it’s simply because they recognize we live in a technology-focused world and can only envision any home-based learning as happening from a computer. Whatever the reason, there is a big difference between the two, and I will attempt to clarify it.
Millions of families utilize cyber schooling options and are very satisfied with it, but there are some issues which turn many people away from it.
It is these issues that separate cyber schooling from homeschooling.
Whether a cyber school is being offered through a public school district or it is an independent agent, they all operate in much the same way. They both include a mandated curriculum, and the parents and students are responsible for answering to these programs in regards to attendance, turning in written work, and completing the required number of hours of school work for each day. (In other words, the students must be logged on for a certain number of hours per day- usually about five.) Furthermore, these programs also offer free services and tax credits to those who use their programs.
This is where cyber schooling vastly differs from homeschooling, which brings us to the:
5 Reasons Why Cyber Schooling Is Not Homeschooling
#1- Cyber schools use a mandated curriculum. Homeschoolers love to take advantage of the fact that what their children learn and how they learn it is up to them and their children- not to anyone else. They can use any approach to any subject they choose. Cyber school students are restricted to the subjects that are offered and, of course, must learn them in the way they are provided. Although cyber schools do offer electives, the students are limited to only the electives that are offered and do not have the freedom in how they go about learning it as a homeschooled student would. And as for those subjects that are required by a cyber school curriculum- there is no evidence that following the prescribed order put forth by just about every school organization is the best way to learn. Who says that geometry has to be learned in 10th grade? Is there an advantage to this? No. This is simply how it’s always been done. Homeschoolers are able to take the reins and learn when they are ready, not when someone else says they should be.
#2- Cyber school requires logging in for attendance. The issue of attendance is almost laughable to the vast majority of homeschooling families. If your child is awake, they are “present.” Any situation on any given day, whether it is a “school day” or not will inevitably present an abundance of learning opportunities.
This is not so with cyber schooling. Failing to log in for the required time may well result in receiving a truancy letter for your child.
My former homeschool evaluator used to cyber school her son while she, herself, was a school teacher. She once related to me that while she and her family were in the midst of moving, she couldn’t find the box that the modem was in for a few days, so her son was unable to log in to his cyber school. (I believe he was in Kindergarten or 1st grade.) Sure enough, she received a letter stating that they were out of compliance because he failed to log in for about three days. Three days. There’s certainly not much freedom in that aspect, is there?
#3- A requirement of cyber school is to submit finished written work to a school authority at pre-determined times.
A year or two ago, a friend who was using a virtual charter school for her children was completely shaken up because she had received a letter from their cyber school program since she had not turned in any written work for her son yet. The letter failed to mention that she had been trying to get in contact with someone regarding questions she had about when and how to turn in paperwork, and no one bothered to email or call her back.
Homeschooling parents have complete autonomy over their children’s learning. Other than complying with individual state laws, homeschoolers decide what they want to do, how to do it, and do not need to worry over bureaucratic rules imposed on them by outside organizations.
#4- Cyber-schooled students are mandated to be logged on to their program for a certain number of hours per day, whether they have completed their work or not. This is equivalent to the busywork offered in schools to keep the faster students occupied while waiting for all of the other children to complete their work. This is utter nonsense.
Unless they are coming from an extremely rigid schedule, homeschooled students are done when they are done. Period. Sometimes they may complete everything in a couple of hours- or even less. Other times they may be involved in something that lasts the better part of the day. It is not the quantity of time that matters to homeschoolers but the quality.
This avoidance of strict time schedules can be a very large advantage in that homeschooled students have much more time to pursue their own interests than most other kids their age, and, let’s face it. It is often these interests that will lead them to the life path they choose for themselves.
#5- Parents of cyber schoolers are provided with a free education for their kids, free computers to use, free internet, and, very often, tax credits. This is the main reason that homeschoolers often bristle when people refer to cyber schooling as homeschooling.
On the surface, all that free stuff looks very appealing. But who is providing the free resources? The government. And if you know anything at all about the U.S. government, it’s that when you get something for free, you are at the mercy of any regulations the bureaucracy wants to throw at you.
-strict attendance records
As homeschoolers who value our freedom in education, we don’t want anyone to confuse what we do with what cyber schools do, because we are not willing to compromise the flexibility we have in providing an education that is tailored specifically for our children for a few cost-free commodities. If the line between these two forms of at-home learning gets too blurred, we fear that we will be hit with the same burdensome regulations.
And one more thing…
Many, many people begin to use virtual charter schools because they are fed up with public schools, but that doesn’t solve the problem because cyber schools are simply government education invited into your home.
Will you be comfortable with that decision? If you would be, go for it, and I hope it works well for you. If not, look into homeschooling. It’s made such a difference in the lives of so many children.
Whatever you choose, though, I applaud you for showing an intense interest in your child’s education. There just aren’t enough parents like that these days.