How to Choose Between Cyber Schooling and Homeschooling
After more than 20 years of cyber charter education, we find that some parents may not be able to distinguish between cyber schooling and homeschooling. In this blog, Cindy, a veteran learning coach and parent, explores the two schooling methods, and how to choose between them!
Sometimes people assume that any type of schooling done in the home is considered homeschooling.
In fact, schooling in a cyber charter model and homeschooling can look vastly different! Both models have advantages and challenges. In this blog, we’ll explore the differences between cyber schooling and homeschooling, and what to consider when choosing between them!
Homeschooling in Pennsylvania
In the state of Pennsylvania a parent (or legal guardian) completes a home school affidavit, files it with their district, and begins the homeschool journey. Curriculum is chosen, teacher plans and schedules are made, goals are set, and the school year begins. Some families choose to homeschool year round, while others work through most of the summer and take off during the winter holidays for a break.
In this educational choice, the parent adopts the roles of administrator, teacher(s), school nurse, guidance counselor, transportation, record keeper, and lunch lady. Families usually use notebooks or binders to hold the samples of any student writings, worksheets, workbooks, or creative materials used. This keeps it relatively simple to see the student’s accomplishments. At the end of the year a homeschool evaluator is scheduled to evaluate the student’s year and determine if the student has met grade level requirements.
Moving to the Cyber Setting
Keep in mind as you read, that a cyber charter school is a public school in Pennsylvania. Not all cyber schools are public, so if you’re looking for a tuition-free option, keep an eye out for one of the cyber charters!
In the cyber setting, parents usually take on an important role. At PA Virtual, a parent or adult who assists students is called a learning coach. Regardless of which title or school the parent chooses, the choice to stay in the home and assist throughout the school day is vital to student success.
In this model, the virtual school completes many of the important tasks a ‘homeschool’ parent takes on individually or at times within a co-op. The curriculum is already chosen, the academic calendar approved by the Board of Trustees, weekly plans, assessments, and assignments provided by the certified teacher. Yet parents have a role in the day to day success of their student(s). The picture below shows a sample classroom in the cyber setting.
Level of Involvement
Before any type of decision is made, it is best to realistically look at the level of involvement a parent will need to commit themselves to on behalf of their student’s education.
As stated above, the homeschool parent completes each role in education, from the administrator to the academics. There is a daily time commitment, as these parents are the full time decision makers on behalf of their students!
Until expectations are in place and understood, a parent may feel like they have a lot on their plate. So, in some areas, the homeschool co-op is a valuable tool to the family’s advantage. These co-ops allow a shared approach to teaching, give students an opportunity for friendships, and often carry perks like field trips and special evenings similar to the prom as they move into the high school years.
In my experience as a former learning coach, let me tell you that the parent is very committed on a daily basis! Although you are not making teacher plans, you and your student are following them. If you have an elementary student who isn’t reading and comprehending, you will have a four to five hour day with them. As they mature, learn to read, and comprehend, your daily time will lessen but not come to a close. Short conversations with capable high school students enhance the student’s thinking as they maneuver their way through busy days.
A homeschool family is responsible for the total charges acquired for education during the school year. Research turns up a number of websites with costs ranging from $100/year to as high as $1800/year, depending on curriculum, other materials, paying for extracurricular activities (music lessons, karate, etc.), and field trips/socialization opportunities. What you purchase is as vital as how it is used in your home. In the long run, how you choose to homeschool determines the amount spent per student.
The cost of a cyber school depends on the school’s classification. Cyber charter schools are public schools in Pennsylvania, so there is no cost to attend. Private cyber schools, however, often have a tuition cost. At PA Virtual, each student receives a laptop, printer, curriculum, etc. at no cost to the family — like how your child would have access to these resources at a traditional brick-and-mortar.
With cyber schools, however, families that choose to attend outings are usually responsible for the transportation costs and entrance fees to parks, museums, factories, sports events, etc. Stipends are sometimes available, depending on the school.
Speaking of Curriculum...
As education evolves, there are more homeschool curriculum programs available, both in print and online. In addition, there are used bookstores who cater to homeschool families. As noted earlier, homeschooling families have to choose and pay for their own curriculum.
When a family chooses a cyber school, the curriculum is selected and written in their charter. The Department of Education expects that these schools will use those courses for their students. Families are then free to supplement learning at their own cost and pace, according to the student’s interests.
The requirements for homeschooling in Pennsylvania include:
- A high school diploma
- An affidavit
- 900-990 hours of instruction per year
- Keep a record of the student’s year work
- Schedule and allow an end-of-year evaluation.
All cyber schools in Pennsylvania are monitored by the Department of Education, which has firm parameters on the school day. Attendance requirements for students in 1st - 6th grade are five hours of instruction a day, equal to 900 hours per year. Seventh through 12th grade students have a 5.5 hour school day, equaling 990 hours per year. Some Pennsylvania school districts use a 2.5 hour day for their Kindergarten students. State testing is included in the third through eighth grade years. These assessments are called the Pennsylvania State System of Assessment exams, or PSSAs. Keystone Exams (or the equivalent of) must be taken during the high school journey with proficient scores in order to graduate.
Supporting Your Students
Most parents understand they are the first to support a child's needs from the time of birth. The Parent Ambassador Program at PA Virtual sums it up like this: “You know your students better than anyone.” However, as children mature, there will be other adults who may come alongside aiding in support. How does this work in the academic setting?
From extended family, coaches, Sunday school teachers, nursery school teachers, librarians and more – there are many family and community roles coming into relationship with our children. But how does a homeschool family support a child with learning needs that would be cared for by an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or a 504 plan in the public school setting? Extended family, friends, acquaintances may well point the family in a good direction.
The laws in Pennsylvania give homeschooled students some use of the public school system. Currently, access to programs is more on the social level.
Cyber schools have a wealth of resources available, especially public cyber charters. For example, at PA Virtual, supports include:
- A dedicated administrative staff
- Pennsylvania-certified teachers
- Family Support Coordinators
- School counselors and a guidance department
- Academic support teachers
- Counseling services
- Career services
- A team of parent ambassadors who work specifically with parents to develop skills for home education.
As I have spoken with parents over the years regarding which option seems best for their student(s), I’ve found that a homeschooling parent has a higher level of control over the day to day learning that takes place.
On the other side of the coin is having less control but more assistance in the journey. Cyber schools, like PA Virtual, often employ two styles of learning: synchronous (in a live classroom with a teacher using teacher plans), and asynchronous (learning with the learning coach taking the role of the teacher, and a certified teacher provides plans and direction).
- have flexibility
- allow for the parent to see their child learn and grow
- allow the family life and family values to take front and center
- allow the parents to see and hear what the child is learning
- take time and effort on the part of the parent (or adult in charge)
- give a child extra time for their own interests
The goal for both learning settings is to work as a team on behalf of the student(s) to receive the best education which produces a lifetime learner.
If you think the flexibility of cyber school — but with the assistance and resources you need — may be a good fit, check out The Ultimate Guide to Attending a Cyber Charter School in PA.
Good luck, and enjoy learning!
About the Author: Cindy Dingeldein is a former PA Virtual parent and currently works at the school as a parent ambassador regional coordinator.
Image courtesy of Jessica Lewis on Unsplash; all others as noted.