What do you know about K-12 online education? Are you a proponent, opponent, indifferent, or uninformed?

I’ll be honest and say that many of the conversations surrounding distance education for K-12 students are a bit polarizing. Either it’s all positive or completely detrimental, so it’s difficult to find the middle ground. Even still, my interests in K-12 online learning come from a few places.

  • I was a site teacher for an online credit recovery program at a traditional middle school.macbook-606763_640
  • I’ve taught middle and high school English online as a part-time teacher for the past four years.
  • I’m currently enrolled in a graduate certificate program that specializes in blended and online learning in K-12 schools.
  • I’ve been seriously considering homeschooling my children for the personalized learning aspect.
  • I’ve spent some time designing online courses for K-12 students as a content writer.

When I talk to parents about their curriculum concerns, I learn that many don’t know much about K-12 online education options. This can be for any number of reasons, but I am interested in making sure that parents are aware of alternatives. Now, I recognize that most American parents may not be able to homeschool their children. K-12 online education doesn’t always require that.

Why use online learning?
Online education can provide students with hundreds of course options when they are unavailable from districts and schools. AP courses are a great example of educational opportunities offered through K-12 distance learning. In 2013, the iNACOL reported College Board estimates that AP and IB courses in math, science, social studies, and English were available in only 33% of school districts. That’s an alarmingly large woman-868534_640number of students who don’t even have the option to consider dual credit courses through AP and IB. There are thousands of students who could successfully acquire some college credits in high school if they had an opportunity to do so. Are you a parent to one of the thousands? Consider online learning.

Many students currently enrolled in online programs (supplemental or full time) are recovering credits from previously taken courses. Some take the course concurrently, or while they’re enrolled in traditional classes, and others wait until the summer. For other non-traditional circumstances, parents can weigh the pros/cons of distance learning. The courses, unlike higher education ones, tend to be more self-paced. That allows for more personalized instruction and differentiation, and for many parents, this is key.

What kind of programs are there?

Online education comes fully online or blended. Blended learning means students will complete the course on the web and in a traditional classroom. Flipped classrooms are a good example of this. The online academies and schools also offer independent study or teacher-led classes. Of course, the costs differ for these, but the most important aspect is that the choice exists. In situations where parents can serve as instructional facilitators and coaches, the independent study (usually cheaper) is likely ideal. However, if parents may not be readily available to monitor assignments and exams, teacher-led seems more appropriate. As long as parents choose an accredited program (for graduation purposes) and coordinate with their child’s school district/local education agency, they can broaden their child’s educational horizon in ways that weren’t possible before.

Who foots the bill?

Ah, money. It makes the world go ’round, right? Financing K-12 online learning can be as simple as contacting a child’s school district. As the demand for distance education has increased, many states began allocating funds and enacting policies/laws that support students’ choice to use online education as a method of instruction. Refamily-960451_640ally and truly, it depends on several factors, especially the student’s state of residence, but it is well worth it to contact school counselors and initiate a discussion.

Parents who want to fund online learning themselves can do so directly through the educational companies and schools that offer the programs. Costs range, of course, but one course can cost around $20 per month. Full-time programs can range from $850 to $6,000+, but it all depends on the program. For many students, their school districts can cover half or even all of the costs, but it’s important for parents to ask questions.

What should I ask?

Here are some conversation starters (with the school/district) if you’re looking into online learning for your K-12 student:

  • Does the district provide online education options?
  • Is online education an option for courses the district cannot offer?
  • Does the state have any policies regarding students’ access to online education?
  • How can I register my child for state-approved online classes?
  • Are there any state or district funds allocated for online classes?

Will my child be successful?

It’s difficult to answer this question because so much contributes to a child’s educational success. However, there are definite characteristics that make online learning a viable option for many. In my experiences, students who successfully completed the courses demonstrated the following:

  1. Self discipline – They had to self-monitor most times because we were not always online at the same time.
  2. Resourcefulness – They researched other tools and educational sources to help them in addition to my instruction and the course tutorials.
  3. Goal-orientation – They achieved our weekly instructional goals and made no excuses.
  4. Reading/Writing competency – They annotated and analyzed a wide variety of written resources and were able to communicate their understanding.

I must also note that my most successful students have involved site facilitators on campus, district representatives, and parents. Even though we do not meet in a traditional classroom, we still expect parents and other adults to be cognizant and available for support. Students need even more support when they’re completing online coursework because it is so different from their regular educational experiences.

Parents ask often about ways to support their children educationally at home, and online learning, especially supplemental, is a fabulous way to do that. There are several cost-effective methods for K-12 online learning at our disposal, and as a parent and educator, I think it’s important for parents to have the information. Check out the my Useful Websites page for more resources, and watch my quick video about K-12 online learning below.