Are virtual schools the new home school in the US?
Would a virtual school be right for your child? Source: Shutterstock

Virtual schools are becoming increasingly popular. These accredited online schools allow students to receive a primary or secondary-level education anywhere at any time, so long as they have access to an internet connection and computer.

These institutions are fast becoming the new home school – where learners are educated from home, either by a parent or special home tutor, the preferred alternative to attending a typical school before technology became so integrated into our daily lives.

More and more parents are choosing to keep their kids at home to attend school online. According to eLearning Inside, “Stanly County Schools, a district roughly an hour outside of Charlotte, N.C., is in a unique situation. According to the Stanly News & Pressoverall enrollment is down 12.5% over the past decade, while the homeschool population has grown by 112%.

“In a district with 8,226 students, an estimated 1,186 other kids are learning at home. That’s nearly 15%. To help with this surge, the district has developed Stanly County Virtual Education (SCoVE). The virtual learning center allows students to take remote online high school courses as needed throughout their K-12 years.

“Homeschooling across the US has grown almost as quickly as in Stanly County. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) estimates the population stood at 850,000 households in 1999 and ballooned to 1,773,000 in 2012.”

A similar trend is being seen in Canada, as since 1999, public school enrolments have dipped while homeschooling is becoming more popular.

“The country of Canada, furthermore, is in the same boat as Stanly County; since 1999, public school enrollments have declined, while homeschooling has risen.

“Homeschooling in Manitoba grew 140% between the 2007-08 school year and 2014-15. Still, homeschooling rates as a percentage of the population are about half in Canada compared to the US.”

The increased popularity and growth of online schools, however, doesn’t mean it’s the best fit for your child. Here are the pros and cons:

The benefits of virtual schools

The challenge with home schooling is that the parent or tutor may not be the best person to deliver a quality education to a child or prepare them adequately for standardised exams.

However, thanks to technology, virtual schools offer a reliable and trustworthy way of delivering the curricula, so parents can breathe a sigh of relief when choosing to enrol their kids in one of these online schools.

Home schooling can be expensive, too, for parents who need to engage a private tutor. Virtual schools in the US are actually affordable for those from all socioeconomic backgrounds, as there are several public schools today that are offering online options.

According to a recent report by Tulsa World, “Sapulpa Public Schools is about to join the growing list of traditional school districts in the Tulsa area with a full-time virtual program.

“The Sapulpa Virtual Academy launches in August, allowing students from kindergarten through 12th grade to complete coursework entirely from home. There also will be a blended model for students who’d rather take only some classes online.”

Online schooling is also beneficial for those with special needs who are unable to attend traditional schools or adapt to the curriculum. They are still able to engage with a tutor virtually without falling behind academically.

Some virtual options even allow students to be present in the class through telepresence robots – basically an iPad on wheels.

The pitfalls of virtual schools

Just like with home schools, attending school primarily online can leave a child feeling socially isolated as there is minimal face-to-face interaction.

A big part of social skills development happens during school years, as students learn to mingle and communicate with other kids and teachers.

If a parent chooses to keep their kids at home for online schooling, they must make sure they’re getting enough social interaction and stimulation through extra-curricular activities or regular play dates.

Also, just like with traditional school learning, online schools aren’t for everyone. They require a higher level of self-discipline and self-direction which some students may struggle with.

Parents also need to take more care to ensure their home is distraction-free and their child is engaging well with online learning methods.

They should also be involved in the online curriculum to ensure their child is being taught well and it’s suited to their learning style.

Liked this? Then you’ll love…

Is online learning the best solution for weather-related school closures?

From campus to computer: How one school is transforming online education