Monday, March 16, 2009

What About Virtual Schooling?

Free Stuff!

Virtual schooling is a method through which children receive a public school education at home, graduating with a public school diploma. Parents give control to the state and are assigned to a teacher who gives them assignments and generally checks in on them weekly. This is very different than homeschooling, which is a private, parent-led education. Virtual schools (and charter schools) are under the direction and control of the state, whereas homeschools are under the direction and control of the parents. 

I've heard families give two main reasons for choosing virtual schooling over homeschooling. The biggest reason is the lure of freebies (free curriculum, materials, and sometimes even a computer), and the other reason is that some parents feel more confident having a certified teacher tell them what to do.  

At What Price?

Student academics are less then those of students who attend regular public school (whereas independent home schoolers outperform their peers across the board- in every subject of every grade!). The Walton Family Foundation found "stark evidence that most online charters have a negative impact on students' academic achievement." Besides losing the proven academic advantages of homeschooling, you subject yourself to government oversight.

You must use a core curriculum approved by the school. Your child is assigned to a teacher who checks on their work and progress, making sure that he is doing the school-chosen program. You must teach what is provided, and are subject to government oversight and perhaps interviews withs school officials. If you leave virtual schooling to independently homeschool, you may even be investigated!

Article after article by those who have tried virtual schooling ring out the same message: all the freebies just are NOT worth the control! Families say that things start out seeming great, but over time they're restricted more and more until they decide that it just isn't worth it! 

I'd encourage you to check with HSLDA & Home Education Magazine for more information since both have researched them fully. HSLDA even refuses membership from families who have any children enrolled in virtual schooling.

Overall, this method negatively affects the homeschooling community, and if used wide-spread it may jeopardize homeschooling freedoms in the future! Unfortunately, it continues. Virtual public schools target homeschoolers in their marketing, because if they succeed they get more state funding

Hidden Costs & Other Aggravations?

One mom who's tried both "hardcore" homeschooling and virtual schooling shares this insight: 
"The schools are free in the sense that you do not a pay any tuition and they do provide you with all of your equipment and even your internet connection, so you are not obligated to spend money on those things. However, they are not well funded nor well liked by the powers-that-be who funnel funds to other schools. Their technical departments are poorly run and generally untrustworthy in so far as they may or may not provide you with equipment and software that functions properly and if you are one of the people who has trouble with what was provided the "help" to get it fixed is likely to end up taking up a great deal of your time and gas and may end up with your child unable to access the school and do any schoolwork online for days or even weeks. I know of quite a few people who continued to use their virtual school of choice and simply paid for all of their own better quality equipment, rather than spending time with "tech support" and with driving in for replacement pieces throughout the year. 
The schools' political struggle to survive and to make itself acceptable to the political powers-that-be within the state's educational system create aggravations and inconveniences such as meetings where parents may be required to come to a session designed to allow the school to lecture the parents of the children who are basically public school dropouts who cannot be controlled but can be lectured with the hope of pressuring them into forcing their children to do better or do anything as apparently there are many in that category who simply do not log on and do any work at all. 

The curriculum is neither demanding nor well-taught as a general rule. As with all schools there are some teachers who are good and some who may even be great and then there are the rest. 
The school's website, in some schools, may be difficult to navigate or otherwise not user-friendly or even unreliable in its functions on an ongoing basis."

Her overall conclusion is supportive of as many choices as possible for schooling options, but she's found "hardcore" homeschooling to be far superior to virtual schooling.


If you want to homeschool but are feeling like you need to use virtual schooling instead, I'd highly encourage you to reach out to a local homeschool group in your area. Members will likely be eager to help you, and be a great source of ideas and resources. You can buy your curriculum used, discounted or even just borrow some from other homeschooling families. 

Homeschooling doesn't have to be expensive. There's actually quite a wide range in how much individual families spend on their materials. Even though some families spend very little, the results are consistent across the board: it works. Homeschoolers score 37 percentile points higher than the national average on standardized tests. In fact, in EVERY subject and at EVERY grade level, home school students out performed virtual schoolers, charter schoolers, public schoolers, and private schoolers. 

So don't let the state's marketing fool you. There's a difference. And it's a big one. 

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