Free cyber-charter schools are the newest trend making waves within the homeschool community. And it’s easy to see why when you consider they promise parents a tuition-free education that you and your child can customize and do from home. However, we’ve been homeschooling for 25 years and have seen lots of homeschool programs come and go. By now we reserve a healthy amount of skepticism when a new homeschool program sounds too good to be true – because in most cases it usually is.
On the surface, free cyber-charter schools do provide students with a K-12 home-based education. But as with anything, there are pros and cons that need to be understood and weighed carefully for each homeschool family.
Before signing up with a cyber-charter program, it’s important that you understand what cyber-charter schools are and what they are not. One thing is clear, cyber-charter schools might be free, and your child might be at home while doing work, but they’re very different from traditional homeschooling, and you should know the differences before jumping in. Read on to find out what you might have to give up when choosing a public cyber-charter school.
- Freedom: Freedom is at the heart of traditional homeschooling. Cyber-charter schools limit freedom of choice in curriculum, schedule, and course plans. With a cyber-charter school, your child is required to conform to their school schedule, their timetable, and use only their curriculum. Not only this, as a parent you’re required to commit between 4 and 8 hours a day to monitoring their work. Because your family is stuck in a 9-4 school day and required to work and keep to a traditional school calendar, you have less freedom to travel, to pursue excellence outside of academics, and develop family bonds. In contrast, traditional homeschooling puts your family and freedom at the heart of learning. With homeschooling, you’re in control of your child’s education because you know them best. From when to what to how you can make the choices that best suit your family.
- Individuality: Traditional homeschooling celebrates individuality and can be customized to your child’s specific needs, grade level, and learning style. Cyber-charter schools require one curriculum which may or may not fit your child’s interests, learning style, etc. And, because of this requirement, adjusting to your child’s learning style or appealing to their interests is not always an option. Neither is stopping to dig deeper into a topic when your student is truly interested. Keeping pace with the curriculum is a requirement based on their needs, their schedules, and their standardized tests. Homeschooling is very different. Your child is at the center of their educational journey, from a curriculum that matches their learning style to projects that allow them to explore topics that have piqued their interest. When you start with your child’s gifts and needs and have the freedom to choose from hundreds of curriculum options to customize an exciting school year, your child is set up not just to succeed, but to love learning.
- Flexibility: Traditional homeschooling is flexible and suits the needs of the entire family. Cyber-charter schools limit flexibility with required login times, classes, and school schedules. Not only does a cyber-charter school require your child to attend live classes at times that fit into their teacher’s schedules, with young ones you are required to be present and attend these sessions as well. And, you’re not able to choose your child’s courses based on their interests. Rather, your child is required to take the courses and be present at the classes that are pre-determined based on their grade level and public school requirements. This requirement can confine your schedule and put limits on what your child can do and participate in during the day. What if they learn best in the afternoon after exercise? When can you take field trips? What about evening homeschoolers? If you’re looking for a flexible day that is built around your child, cyber-charter school isn’t going to be a good fit. Homeschooling encourages and thrives on flexibility. This means you attend the classes your children are interested in when the fit into your schedule. Traditional homeschooling means learning is based on your child’s ever-changing needs and interests and is done when, where, and how your child needs to learn. This means you have the flexibility to encourage unit studies, hands-on exploration, and project-based learning daily.
- Creativity: Homeschooling is about creativity and choice. Cyber-charter schools limit creativity by using a quiz/test model and requiring standardized testing up to 3 times a year! Mandatory placement, standardized testing, and end of year finals put having the right answers at the core of learning, not exploration and mastery. And we know that standardized tests tell us little about actual learning and can cause stress, anxiety, and lower self-confidence. Let’s face it, quizzes and tests are not the best way to determine what a child has learned! Homeschooling should encourage creativity, critical thinking, application, and mastery. When a child is allowed to learn about what interests them in an environment that encourages freedom and exploration, the possibilities for creativity are endless. Homeschooling allows future artists to build and draw in math class, and future diplomats to give speeches in science. Removing the boundaries of testing, of true/false thinking and fill in the blanks set the scene for true mastery and inventiveness.
- Values: Homeschooling is about communicating your values. Cyber-charter schools require public school curriculum, requiring your child to master content including evolution as truth, sexual education, and the confusing Common Core State Standards. And these are not negotiable. If your child is in biology with a cyber-charter school, you can be sure they will learn that the world was created by a big bang and that man’s earliest descendants were apes. Because your child will be part of the public school system, what is taught in public schools will be required in your home if you choose a cyber-charter school. Homeschooling should provide you with the opportunity to pass along your values and beliefs without a struggle. This is at the heart of homeschooling – the freedom from the government and public’s view of life and right. Choosing a public cyber-charter school will greatly limit your ability to control what your child is exposed to within their curriculum.
Taking back control of your child’s education doesn’t mean giving up the freedom and flexibility you need. Homeschooling is a challenge, but you don’t have to do it on your own, nor do you have to choose a public cyber-charter school. Your child deserves every opportunity and chance they can get to succeed in online learning. But finding the right provider can be a challenge and can often leave you feeling overwhelmed and questioning your choice. When it comes to your child’s education freedom, flexibility, and support are the most important ingredients in the recipe for online learning success.