Friday, October 19, 2018

The Darker Sides of School Choices

Under each leaf it is shaded and dark – and under each school choice there are darker issues that make it difficult for parents to choose the best schools for their kids. It used to be that you had two choices for your child’s education – public or private school. Either way your child would board the bus in the morning, be assigned to a specific classroom for the day, and run through the schoolyard at recess. Now our kids have the options of these schools, plus online schools, homeschools, and blended learning opportunities. How are we as parents supposed to decide which is best?

Yesterday I wrote a bit of the advantages of these newer options in education. I’ve always homeschooled my kids, but I have to admit that when the postcards start arriving in the mail advertising online academies and “personalized, accredited education” through tuition-free public schools, I get curious. As a homeschooler I invest a lot of time in preparation for my children’s education, not to mention a fair chunk of change in order to have quality supplies and curriculum. So now it is time to weigh the disadvantages for each option – and see who comes out the education winner for our family.

Disadvantages of Homeschooling

Even though I’ve loved homeschooling my children for more than 12 years, I’m not blind to the disadvantages it can bring to our family.

Time commitment – I can spend more than 10 hours some weeks between prep work and all of the extras for the kids. This doesn’t include all of the “teaching time” each week, which in our family means anywhere from 4 – 10 hours every day interacting with my kids on academics. I know some families who spend much less dedicated time, but that just doesn’t work for me and my goals for my family.

Financial commitment – Not only do I spend money on curriculum for my kids, but I also then commit myself to working fewer hours as a freelancer in order to meet my time commitment for my kids. This means less money incoming, more money outgoing, and we’re talking decades of this pattern when you have several children.

Energy commitment – Some days I’m zapped. I not only want to ensure that my kids have positive academic experiences, but that they flourish with real-life activities. We volunteer in the community, participate in numerous clubs and organizations, and the kids are members of various teams – from sports to quiz bowls. My oldest son participates with the local public high school for athletics, which means we drive 23 minutes each way to get him to practice every day when he would typically just be able to stay after school for these. I think that in order to make sure their homeschool experience is well rounded that we definitely participate in more things that we would if the kids were in public school – they just wouldn’t be home enough to be able.

Disadvantages of Online Schools

Online schools are tempting me, but I’ve been doing some research and talking with families who have tried it (and some who have walked away from it), and have found several disadvantages.

More busy work – Time and time again I hear from parents that many of the online schools have excessive amounts of busy work. It appears that because teachers don’t develop a personal and strong relationship with students that they need more busy work in order to assess abilities.

Still public school – While many people view online schools as homeschools, they are not. Online schools still follow truancy laws, require parent/teacher conferences, and require the same testing and assessments as public schools. I do know homeschoolers who tried virtual schools and didn’t like it just for the fact that if the family wanted to take advantage of a few field trips during the week that online school policies restricted how much time away from the computer the student could have.

Less freedom of curriculum choice – There are some online schools that do allow for tailoring of classes, but there are definitely fewer options available than in homeschool settings where kids can help decide which topics get studied and when.

Less family time – Even though the kids are home, it doesn’t mean they are connected with their families. In fact, the postcard from MTS Minnesota Connections Academy shows a teenage student at the computer with her mother sitting in the background – no interactions.

Disadvantages of Blended Learning

Blended learning opportunities, where students attend part time in classroom settings and part time in online classes, is gaining in popularity. While it can be the best of both worlds, it does have some disadvantages.

Limited flexibility – Students are often still enrolled in public school for these situations and therefore are limited in flexibility when it comes to curriculum and scheduling. It can also be more challenging for students to participate in brick and mortar school activities when they are only in school part time.

Costs – Unless the online classes are provided as part of the public school offering, these part time classes can be quite expensive. We explored online supplemental classes for my daughter when she was in homeschool high school and the costs rivaled those of local colleges.

Availability – This is a newer area of education and still in the development stage for broad offerings. These private online courses that don’t require students to enroll full-time are typically private, faith-based programs that offer rigorous studies in limited and specialized subjects.

Choosing The School That is Right for My Children

My grandmother says she feels sorry for my generation – we have too many choices to “worry our pretty little heads.” After wading through the options once again, I’m going to stick with homeschooling. But that doesn’t mean that it will always be that way. I look forward to a future where perhaps my younger children will be able to participate in blended learning opportunities – maybe virtual frog dissections or calculus courses – yet still be homeschooled for the majority of their subjects. I’m willing to commit the time and effort (and give up a little spending money). Most importantly though, my kids say this is the plan they want to pursue. What education plans are you pursuing?

Related posts:

  1. Old School Education
  2. Is Your Children’s School Failing Them?
  3. 7 Ways High School Fails to Prepare Kids for College

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