As schools remain closed in many parts of the country, parents are wondering how they can provide their children with a sense of structure and a quality education from afar. In areas where schools are open, there is still an unprecedented level of uncertainty and anxiety surrounding the safety and stability of the program. Homeschooling may have been on your mind already, and the coronavirus gave you even more incentive to find a quality online program for your child. The good news is that parents no longer have to be the sole educator in a home setting.

Although yours might be studying from the dining room table, an accredited online school puts them directly in touch with licensed teachers.

For teens, this can be an immense relief as they are able to complete high school online while still preparing for college. The best virtual options will even help students prepare for university, and you can focus on teaching them additional topics like the process of applying for federal aid or taking out private student loans from Earnest. Whatever you choose to do, and whatever age yours is, it’s a good idea to explore the ins and outs of online education before you enroll in any program.

1. First Things First: Is it Right for Your Child?

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No one got a say when schools were closed. Children who have IEPs and require additional support were left stranded as their parents desperately tried to find a way to help them at home. Even those without learning disabilities struggled to adjust to the distance classroom, especially those who need the structure to stay on track and continue to be focused and motivated. Although some students would still prefer to go back to the way things used to be, we must accept the reality that is not going to happen anytime soon and this is the new normal. Even in areas with low positivity rates, the coronavirus could flare up again, or there could be another reason they are forced to go back to remote schooling.

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If you are interested in an online program for long-term education, i.e. a complete replacement for traditional schooling for at least the next academic year, your child should be on board with this. They should be involved in the process of looking at different options, and you should have a lengthy discussion about what homeschooling would be like if you were to enroll them in a program. Online education is not the best choice for students with learning disabilities or special needs unless the program is particularly designed with them in mind. Here are some other factors to consider:

  • Is my child engaged online?
  • Can they focus on a virtual platform for a long period of time?
  • Have they already adapted to distance education? If not, what are their biggest struggles, and could an online program help?
  • Do they need additional support the school or I cannot provide?
  • Am I able to actively ensure they are participating in and achieving academic milestones?

2. Good Qualities to Watch Out For

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Once you’ve decided to move forward, it will be time to evaluate different programs. Most states have some form of distance learning in place, but many of these institutions are overrun, underfunded, and lack the ability to meet students’ diverse learning styles and needs. Online private schools offer a much higher quality of education, but they do charge tuition. While the public program may work for some students, parents who are unsatisfied with the current arrangement may consider alternatives. As you investigate, here are some things to keep in mind:

Accreditation: An online school should be accredited by both the U.S. Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). This ensures its curriculum meets national and local educational standards. Without proper accreditation, your child could fall significantly behind their peers. For high schoolers, a lack of accreditation means that the organization is not authorized to issue any sort of diploma, and the certification they receive will likely be deemed invalid. Academics vary by state, but there are core standards every school in the country must meet.

Accreditation will guarantee your child is given the quality of education they need to meet important milestones. This will also make it easier for a student to transfer back into the public system later if they desire without being behind and possibly even having to repeat grade levels.

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Course Diversity: While education is typically linear throughout elementary and middle school, a virtual high school should offer greater options for its students. For teens who are preparing for college, building a resume is important. This means they need a program that allows them to customize their education through different courses, including various electives and Advanced Placement (AP) courses for college credit. Younger students may not have as much selection when it comes to course material, but there should still be flexibility in how a student can learn. While routine and structure are important, one of the greatest benefits is the ability to personalize a learning experience.

Social Opportunity: Even from a distance, students should feel connected to their educators and peers. A strong social system creates a sense of inclusion and belonging, two elements that are critical to a child’s self-esteem and emerging identity. A good program will include video courses, online forums, and a way for students to get to know one another.

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Open Communication: There should be progress reports, written material and easy access to all your student’s teachers. A parent should never feel out of the loop when it comes to their education. A good program will be committed to helping the entire family adjust to homeschooling, and the teachers will frequently be in touch via email, send updates and be able to talk via phone and/or video chat. This ensures there is a collaborative effort that gives your child the most supportive environment. Rather than home and school competing with one another, you and the school develop a cohesive approach that makes learning feel alive and fun.

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