How Homeschooling & Cyber Schooling Changed Public Education
Traditional brick and mortar schools have long been the standard in education in the United States. The introduction of school choice along with the increase in popularity of charter schools and homeschooling has caused district schools to reevaluate their teaching methodology. The continued impact and implications of school choice only further the idea that different schooling options work for different learners. Having a variety of choices to meet the various needs of learners can only serve to positively impact educational paradigms overall.
An ever increasing demand is put on schools to produce individuals who are not only intelligent, but also have traits such as creativity, problem solving, and tenacity. Information and research is more readily available in the last twenty years than ever before. Parents are educating themselves and looking to invest in improving the future, especially when it involves their children. Research continues to pile up showcasing that alternative educational methods and schooling options can be just as effective at preparing adept students as a traditional brick and mortar school district. Is it really any wonder that many are seeking out alternatives to the traditional public school?
Defining Educational Alternatives
Homeschooling, again, is a very broad term. Generally speaking, homeschooling is when a child learns at home without the direct daily supervision of a school entity. The parents act as teachers and choose a curriculum, teach the lessons, and supervise all educational activities throughout the year. Most states require students who are homeschooled to coordinate with their local districts and produce evidence of learning each school year such as a portfolio or meeting with an evaluator. Pennsylvania requires parents to submit an annual notice to their local district.
Homeschooling gained footing in 1970 in response to many feeling that a constrained and formal school model focused on rote learning was not beneficial. While many believe homeschooling to be frequently chosen for religious reasons, the data speaks differently. According to the Coalition for Responsible Home Education, “A growing number of families have begun homeschooling for neither pedagogical nor religious reasons but rather for individual pragmatic reasons, including concerns about bullying or the poor quality of local schools.”
Image from National Charter School Resource Center
Charter schools are schools that are independently run, yet operate under a “charter.” The “charter” is essentially an approved plan of action between the school and the state allowing for defined flexibility when educating students. Public charter schools are open to any student who meets the requirements of their charter. For example, a charter may stipulate enrollment for a specified geographic area or stipulate a specific curriculum and mode of learning be employed.
Public charter schools have access to public funding as defined by the state laws. As such, public charter schools are required to adhere to all state educational laws and practices such as standardized assessments and supporting students with special needs. However, in contrast to a traditional public school, charter schools are funded based entirely on their enrollment. Each state sets its own regulations regarding how long charters are issued, how often they are renewed, and the criteria used to evaluate the efficacy of the charter schools.
Public charter schools all operate under their own approved charters which outline a variety of educational programs, supports, and foci. Some charter schools may only be open to a certain grade level or levels. Others may be focused on a certain subject such as math, science, or the performing arts. This freedom to deviate from the “norm” allows schools and the educators powering them to employ innovative ideas and hone variations of traditional educational paradigms, taking them to new levels otherwise unexplored.
Some states allow private charter schools as well. These schools do not receive public funds and are usually funded through student tuition. There is commonly an application process required for entry. Students are not guaranteed admission. Private charters and private schools are not required to adhere to state accountability measures such as standardized testing and do not necessarily support students with IEPs.
Read more about Pennsylvania’s charter school information here:
Charter schools were born out of a drive to offer an alternative form of public education at a time when there were only three choices: public districts, private schools, and homeschooling. Many families still wanted or needed to send their children to a public school, but could not afford a private school nor have an adult comfortable supervising a homeschooling model of education. Charter schools are currently open in 44 states, as well as the District of Columbia, to support student success. Currently, more than two million students across the country are enrolled in a charter school.
Cyber Charter Schools
As technology has evolved, so have its adaptations to education. Many think of technology being applied inside the classroom when asked to pair the two together. However, in as early as the 1990s, people were experiencing the freedom of distance education. At the time, it was geared only towards adults in higher education. However, as the charter school movement gained momentum, the instances of charter schools intentionally incorporating technology into their educational modes became increasingly common and even sought after. The demand for all grade levels to experience the freedom of distance education grew. As a result, cyber charter schools were born.
Cyber charter schools operate under the same rules as any other public charter. They must provide open enrollment for any student who meets their charter’s focus, participate in state accountability measures such as standardized testing, and meet the needs of all students including those with IEPs. The only noticeable difference between traditional charter schools and cyber charter schools is that their charters would include purposeful instruction of students through the Internet or other electronic means. Students enrolled in cyber charter schools attend classes over the computer and do not go to classes in a school building.
Cyber charter schools in Pennsylvania accept students statewide. A student may enroll in a cyber charter school on the opposite side of the state from where he/she resides. However, similar to traditional charters, cyber charters may limit enrollment to a particular grade level, area of concentration, or a targeted group of “at risk” students as outlined in their charter.
Cyber charter schools are gaining popularity for a variety of reasons. Parents who may have chosen to traditionally homeschool their child may decide to enroll in a cyber charter school for the structure and support of a school while maintaining the flexibility and comfort of a home learning environment. Additionally, while many homeschooling students need to purchase their own curriculum, many cyber charter schools provide the curriculum to students as part of their enrollment.
Many parents also enjoy the variety of choices cyber charters offer with regards to enrollment. If the local public charter school is full, a cyber charter across the state may still have enrollment opportunities. With many students needing to move, learn in small groups, or at an alternative pace, many parents are seeking out schools which provide these exact opportunities. Students in cyber school enjoy the benefits of a school from the comfort of their own homes and under the supervision of their own parents or learning coaches.
Read more about Pennsylvania’s cyber charter school information here:
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The Evolution of School Choice
School Choice has been around for nearly 150 years. It’s an older idea than most realize. In fact, at the time School Choice was first envisioned, students still attended school in a one room schoolhouse! Education is continually evolving to meet the changing landscape of both intellectual and societal needs. Consider how much education has changed since the one room schoolhouse!
School Choice is an umbrella term referring to any way in which families can choose the best educational setting for their children. School Choice is defined by Ed Choice as allowing “public education funds to follow students to the schools or services that best fit their needs—whether that’s to a public school, private school, charter school, home school or any other learning environment parents choose for their kids.” Essentially, School Choice promotes the idea that everyone learns differently and no one way is the definitive way. Now that choice in their education is more mainstream, many educational leaders are reflecting and beginning to dig deeper into the effects school choice can and will have on education as a whole.
Please watch this video created by National School Choice Week to learn a bit more about what School Choice is.
Effects of School Choice on Districts
As enrollment in alternatives to public brick and mortar schools increased, many local districts took note and sought out ways to make changes to improve the options students were provided with, taking lessons from their charter school neighbors. Some districts are now offering blended learning programs in which students are enrolled in the district, but only attend school in the district buildings part of the week while they learn from home in a cyber model the other days. Other districts reevaluated curriculum and went through financial overhauls to ascertain where else they could support student learning and differentiate their budget to do so. Some states allow virtual snow days as an alternative to adjusting school calendars due to weather.
With a larger percentage of students enrolling in alternative educational settings every year, districts need to keep up with changing educational trends and current research, or they will be considered the lesser educational model instead of the default. This idea is in direct reaction to parents using their right to voice their opinion on the education of their children through exercising school choice.
EdWeek published an interesting article in July 2018 positing that the school choice movement will culminate by breaking down the physical boundaries of learning and allow students to choose from a menu of educational options. With society showing a proliferating need for out of the box thinkers and technology advancements emerging at an exponential rate, it’s only natural that learning and education would need to continue to evolve in new and innovative ways.
Effects of School Choice in the Classroom
Most of the time school choice is looked at from the view of impact on the students. Educational choice for students also means that teachers have an option of where to practice their teaching! Not every teacher wishes to teach the same way as another or will do his/her best teaching in a traditional model. It is common practice in school districts to move teachers around between grade levels every so often or adjust positions as needed to continually “shake things up” and provide teachers new environments and challenges to work through. Doing so is seen as a way to continually enhance the teacher’s abilities and support them not getting “stuck” in a certain way of doing things.
Teachers consistently collaborate with each other, seeking out new ways to teach, new strategies to try and support their students. The flexibility of charter schools allows innovative educators to “test the waters” so to speak and try out these newer adaptations or innovative ways of teaching. They are not pinned into one corner, but rather than find new ways to experience learning and bring that to all students. Bringing this mindset to traditional public schools encourages teachers to continue to learn themselves and push past the traditionally set barriers to give their students what they need to learn.
Technology is readily available in most schools, but is just now showing defined elements of pedagogy in classroom applications. Teaching frameworks such as flipped learning and blended learning have made a profound change in how learning was executed in the last decade alone.
Alternative forms of education have existed for quite some time and have often been at the forefront of change. As with any other concept, the so called “kinks” must be worked out with a small group prior to widespread adoption. Homeschooling and charter schools serve as a mode in which a variety of innovative ideas can be tested out and research based methods of instruction developed for use by all educators. While many may weigh the pros and cons of all alternative forms of education, their impact on driving the needs of the students into the forefront of discussion is not something that can easily be dismissed.
On a Personal Note:
As a cyber charter school teacher for more than thirteen years, it has been my privilege to work in an environment that encourages educators to find the best ways to instruct our students. My work environment encourages creativity and resiliency while providing consistent challenges for me to work through as I strive to provide my students with the best possible education.
We seek to encourage our students to strive towards their own excellence as well. Not every mode of education is right for every child. We all have unique tastes and learning styles, so why shouldn’t education allow the same variety we enjoy in anything else?
If you are interested in learning more about cyber charter schools, we invite you to check out The Ultimate Guide to Attending a Cyber Charter School in PA. This guide will answer your questions and paint a clearer picture about what a cyber charter school experience would look like for your child.