Online Charter Schools

Online Public Charter Schools (OPCS) have become a major alternative to traditional public or homeschooling.  They have grown exponentially in the past few years, with many schools being forced by the state to limit their enrollment or hire teachers quickly.  Many moms that wish to pull their children out of public school (PS) feel completely overwhelmed by the thought of jumping right into traditional homeschooling (HS).  Even some traditional homeschoolers find having an entire curriculum planned for them very appealing.  Whatever your situation, there are a few basics you should understand before you jump into the virtual public school realm. 

What kind of school are they? Public? Private? Charter?
The answer is complicated.  As you know, public schools use tax dollars to fund your child's education.  Depending on which state you are in, the funds can come from property tax, state taxes, and bonds. Charter schools are schools that are privately owned and operated, but funded and accredited through the public school system.  Basically a company applies to the state school system, promises to follow their standards (accreditation) and receives funding. An online charter school uses a school at home method, not to be confused with homeschooling.  They provide all the books and supplies, support from teachers, but you are essentially the teacher. Depending on the ages of your children, they may need you to guide them through every lesson or may just need you to grade and check complete. 

What to expect
After enrollment, you will have your books, supplies and in some cases a computer shipped to you. Once the start of the semester gets closer, the website may open up to give you a chance to familiarize yourself with the program. The first year of school at home can be overwhelming, even if you are just starting with one child.  There is a period of adjustment you have to plan for. The teachers can be an enormous help if you keep in contact with them.  You may be required to turn in certain assignments for verification purposes and to add to your child’s portfolio of work.  Depending on the school and the child’s age, you may be able to rearrange the schedule however you want, for example, block scheduling, take Tuesdays off, 4 day school week, or evening work. You may be required to maintain a schedule similar to a traditional school (summers off), though it is more flexible, you just need to complete x number of lessons per semester.  You may be required to have regular contact with your teachers; this contact could include email or phone calls.

Important tip: If you are starting mid semester, check the school’s policy, you may be asked to catch up and complete all previous lessons or you may be able to test out of some of it.  It can be extremely frustrating and overwhelming to begin this way, so please find out their policy and discuss it with your teachers.

Tailor it to your child’s needs
Online schools provide an abundance of different methods for your child to learn.  If you were to attempt to do everything they list, you may be looking at 8-10 hour school days.  The idea behind this is to allow you to tailor it to your child’s learning style. You will not be required to turn everything in, but you will want to take note of what assignments will need to be turned in and make sure those are completed. In a lesson, they may have a few video options, textbook reading, writing in the workbook, then an assessment to verify comprehension. Once you feel comfortable in the routine, you may find your child only needs to do the reading and a video, saving the workbook for review for tests.  In truth, it doesn’t matter how you go about teaching the concept the lesson is covering, just so long they can answer the questions on the assessments.  You can supplement or replace with your own materials to help your child understand the concept. For example, if your child is covering the different planets and needs more on the sun, you can watch an episode of The Universe to explain further.

  • Complete curriculum
  • Child can work at his or her own pace
  • Able to work ahead to the next grade
  • Customized scheduling
  • Portability
  • Easy access to a teacher
  • More control over their education than in a B&M school
  • Still be part of the public school system
  • Required to attend state testing
  • Required to turn in work as proof
  • Required to maintain contact
  • If they lag too far behind or are not performing, they may be given zeros, placed on suspension or worse case kicked out
  • You may be offered only online textbooks
Some traditional homeschoolers see OPCS as endangering their hard work for HS. They feel they fought long and hard to pass laws to allow homeschooling and this option is blurring the line.  Some hs groups will welcome you with open arms, while others may not be so welcoming.  Some may even take offense to calling yourself a homeschooler and will reidentify that you school-at-home and you are still a part of the public school system.  Most of the traditional homeschool community understands everyone's situation is unique and they are extremely helpful and excited about your move toward homeschooling.   Most homeschoolers also have come to realize that the school-at-home approach can be overwhelming and the parents come to the realization they would rather be in full control of their child's education.

States are searching for ways to cut spending in education.  While some see CS as a viable option as it is a set amount they pay the private company to run the school, they do not receive federal funding for them.  Education reform has become a hot topic and charter schools are taking center stage as an easy way to test applications of these reforms.  Some states are expanding their Charter School programs while others are taking them away or limiting enrollment.  Funding will continue to be a hot issue, so check your news to be sure you know all your options.

School choice
K12 - Began as a traditional homeschool curriculum, can still purchase individual courses for HS, mastery based, students can retake assesments until they achieve a certain score or higher, excellent foreign language program.
For information based on personal experiences, join the K12 Yahoo Group.
Connections Academy - Began as a national private online school, more of a school-at-home setup, gifted classes, online clubs and activities, dual enrollment offered for high school students, includes Live Lessons where classes meet up for a scheduled lesson from their teacher.
For information based on personal experiences, join the Connections Academy Yahoo Group.
Calvert has opened a few Online Charter Schools.  It, too, began as a full homeschool curriculum.

For even more information, check out my article on Squidoo

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I have been homeschooling since 2009, but have been reading about it since 2003. Homeschooling is rapidly growing. Whether you are a veteran or new to homeschooling, I hope to filter some of the vast amounts of information for you


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