Alternative Schooling Options to Traditional Public School
Have you ever wondered if a better option existed for your child’s education? Did you know that you, as a parent or guardian in Pennsylvania, have the right to choose the educational environment that works best for your child?
There are many reasons that parents seek alternatives to traditional public education for their children. Values, fear, bullying, rigorous academics, or a slower pace are just a few of those reasons. Every child is unique and learns in a unique way, and it is our job as parents to make sure that our children are able to learn in a safe environment that allows them to thrive.
There is not one perfect school that fits all children, but there is an environment that meets your child’s unique learning needs. Let’s first take a look at the traditional public school option and then all of the alternatives, examining some of the benefits and challenges of each style.
Traditional Brick-and-Mortar Public School
This is the environment that most of us probably think of when someone mentions “school.” You ride a bus or walk to your local school building, where you sit in teacher led classes with peers of the same age who live in your neighborhood.
Enrichment and After School Activities: From sports programs to experiences in the fine arts, there are typically many after school activities available for students to explore. For parents who work, some schools also offer before and after school child care.
Cost: Free! Your tax dollars pay for the traditional brick and mortar schools in your local school district.
Local Identity: Students grow through the grades together and identify as a member of the local community.
Class Size: Because of building and budget constraints, many public school classrooms have large class sizes, making individual attention and instruction difficult for teachers.
Generalized: Our test-driven society forces public schools to teach to the middle, which can often neglect students who are struggling or excelling. If you have already mastered the material, you will likely be completing the same worksheets as your peers to make sure you are prepared for the appropriate grade level assessment. If you are struggling with the content, you will likely be expected to complete grade level work and assessments with your peers even if you are not yet ready for the content.
Discipline: Many public school teachers share their frustrations about spending more time on discipline and transitions than they actually spend teaching.
Local Cyber School
Sometimes referred to as a virtual academy, this is a cyber program offered through your local school district. Some school districts also offer a hybrid program that is partially taught at the brick and mortar school and partially a cyber experience.
Enrichment and After School Activities: Students are still eligible to enroll in and participate in the local enrichment and after school activities because they are technically still students of their local school districts.
Transition: For students who are homebound for a period of time because of health or discipline issues, this provides an easy way to continue what they were working on in the classroom and allows them to smoothly transition back into the classroom after the necessary period of time.
Services: Students enrolled in a local cyber school are eligible for the same services they would receive if they attended their local brick and mortar school.
Parent Time Investment: Although the local district oversees the progress and provides the curriculum for students, the task falls on the parent to ensure the student is supervised and on task during the school day.
Teacher Training: As mentioned on the American Association of School Administrators website, often the teachers leading local cyber classes are not provided proper and sufficient training in cyber education.
Cost: Some schools provide all of the curriculum and technology needed to participate in these programs, but some charge a fee or provide a stipend to be used towards the necessary technology.
Cyber Charter School
A cyber charter school is an online public school, chartered by the state education department, to deliver instruction online. Cyber charter schools are funded through your taxpayer dollars, and follow the same state standards and testing that traditional brick-and-mortar schools do. The school provides the laptop and curriculum, and the student attends classes and completes school work virtually from his or her home.
Teacher Support: Cyber charter teachers are trained to provide learning opportunities in a virtual environment. They are accessible through virtual office hours and use technology tools for teaching and communication.
Resources and Cost: Students are provided with the laptop, tools and technology necessary to learn in this environment. As this is a public school, the materials necessary to participate in this environment are provided at no extra cost.
Accessibility: Education is not restricted to a specific place, time, or classroom. Students are able to complete work in a comfortable home environment, removing many of the stressors of traditional school settings.
Class Size: Depending on the size of the cyber charter, Teachers are sometimes responsible for larger class sizes, making individual attention and instruction more challenging for teachers during the class times.
Curriculum: The student is assigned curriculum and content by the school and teacher rather than by the parent.
Social Interaction: Although many opportunities are available for students to socialize both virtually and physically, it does take effort on the part of the student and/or family.
Brick-and-Mortar Charter School
A brick-and-mortar charter school is a public school paid for by taxpayer dollars that has a building where students attend and take classes. These schools operate independently from the local districts through charters (contracts) approved by the state.
Focus: Many charter schools provide a focus on a common area. Arts, science, service, or STEM are just a few of the areas charter schools could focus on to build community and engage learners.
Innovation: Charter schools often are more willing than their traditional counterparts to try new and innovative ideas.
Class Size: Charter schools typically have limited enrollment and offer smaller class sizes, allowing students to receive more individualized attention and instruction.
Location: Charter schools are not readily available in all areas; rural communities specifically tend to lack these opportunities or may force students to travel great distances to attend.
Enrollment: Many charters hold a lottery to select students. It can be difficult to secure a spot in your chosen school.
Stability: Charters operate on a conditional basis, contingent upon approval by the state. If the state pulls the charter, the school is forced to shut down.
Funding is the main difference between a private and public school. While funding for public schools comes from the government, private schools do not receive government funding.
Beliefs: Private schools are often associated with particular belief systems, whether that be religious or academic in nature. Families looking to provide an education that is aligned with their belief system appreciate the support that a private experience can provide.
Options: Whether you are looking for a Montessori school to support your educational beliefs or a school that reinforces your religious beliefs, there are many options for private schooling.
Class Size: Private schools have the ability to limit enrollment, thus providing smaller class size. This can lead to more individualized attention and instruction.
Cost: As private schools do not receive funding from the government, they look to their students and families to pay the costs to operate the school. Most private schools are expensive, making them inaccessible to many families.
Lack of Diversity: Because many families cannot afford private schooling, schools can become an exclusive collection of upper class children with similar backgrounds. This limited exposure to the diverse wealth of cultures and classes that exist in our world can limit student perspective.
Enrollment: Private schools have the option to limit the number of students who can enroll. Securing a spot for your child is not guaranteed and can be a challenging process.
Unschooling, worldschooling, co-ops - there are many different varieties of education that fall under homeschooling, but the unifying factors are that students learn at home, and parents are in charge of choosing and providing the curriculum and learning tools.
Curriculum Choice: You have complete freedom to choose the curriculum that supports your beliefs and the learning needs of the child.
Travel and Enrichment: Homeschoolers are not restricted to a specific space or time. School can happen anywhere, from field trips to local farms to ventures through the Panama Canal. You are free to travel during low tourist periods. Enrichment classes are often available specifically for homeschoolers during the school day.
Individualized: You are free to tailor each subject and experience specifically to the needs of your child. In spending so much time with your child, you learn how he or she best learns and what he or she is interested in. Homeschooling can be a wonderful bonding time with your child.
Curriculum Expenses: Although there are many used curriculum opportunities available, purchasing your own curriculum can get extremely pricey. All costs for homeschooling in Pennsylvania fall on the parents.
Down Time: When students go off to school, parents get a break to work or carry out household jobs. When students do school at home, those breaks disappear.
Socialization: Homeschooled students have just as many socialization opportunities as traditionally schooled students, but the organization of these experiences, as well as the cost, falls on the parents.
Just like there is not one perfect pair of jeans that fits every body, there is not one perfect school that meets the learning needs of every student. The beauty of school choice is that there are so many options, now more than ever before. If you find your current environment is not working for your child or your family, you are free to explore those options and make a change.
If you’re a parent looking to explore options for your child's education, here are some of the best questions to ask when choosing an educational option. We also invite you to check out our Ultimate Guide to Attending a Cyber Charter School in PA. This guide will help you weigh the pros and cons of cyber charter schools and help you decide whether your child would benefit from a cyber charter school. In addition, this guide shows examples of curriculum, and includes an extensive comparison of all cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania, and much more.