The Allure of FREE: Are state run online charter schools the right answer for homeschool families?

A large relatively new player on the homeschooling scene is online charter programs run by the states and local districts with tax payer money.  These programs allow you to enroll your child into a virtual academy run through a local district.  The school is usually accredited by the state eliminating the worry of many parents that their child’s homeschool education “won’t count”.

Also the classes are typically facilitated by state certified teachers and a complete curriculum is provided free of charge to any family that signs up.  Hassle-free homeschooling is how it surely seems to those parents that are apprehensive or struggling with taking their kids out of traditional schools, public or private.

So what’s the catch?  Why have school districts started to bend over backwards to offer options to families that want to homeschool.  Well, trust me, it’s not out of the kindness in their hearts.

free homeschooling curriculumIf you as an individual purchase K12’s program and facilitate it without the help of teachers it costs about $238/class so for around $1400 you can get 6 classes for the year.  If you buy the teacher supported program, again directly from K12, you pay $550/class so that would be about $3300 for the year, still less than many private schools charge.

So what about getting the program for “free” though a state chartered school; it’s the same curriculum but you are saving $3300!  I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot a money where I come from.  So why are districts so eager to give away this program that costs $3300? The  school district gets state and federal funds for every student enrolled.  In my state, Michigan, this comes to $11,361 PER KID!

But who cares, right? You don’t have to pay, your child gets to be homeschooled, it’s a win-win, right? Not quite.  You see this “free” money comes with strings, lots of them.  So there is a good chance that whatever your reasons were for choosing to homeschool, they will not be made any better; same problems in a different venue.

  • Upset with the quality of teachers?  K12 pays teachers far less than average.
  • You have a special needs child?  Now you’re trying to coordinate an IEP over the internet with teachers that live all over the state.
  • Wanted the freedom to go on vacation? You child will have to get her assignments done before you leave or make them up (along with her currently assigned work) when you get back.
  • Wanted your child to progress at her own pace? No. Your child will be put on probation and asked to leave if progress is not made.
  • You don’t like the focus on high stakes testing? These schools are required to test students and their funding depends on your child passing them.
  • Wanted more control over curricular content? As government schools these programs are strictly secular and conform to national education standards.

 

k12 homeschool curriculum reviewNow I’m being hard on K12 because they are currently the biggest player, but they do have a pretty good program that many people have used with great success.  The issue is not K12 the company, but rather with their strategy of partnering with state run charter schools in order to feed at the government funding trough.  If you read reviews on many homeschool blogs many people were very dissatisfied with their experiences, but blame the K12 curriculum and company for what, in many cases, are requirements of the local school district or charter program.

The moral of the story is you get what you pay for and when you allow someone else to foot the bill, you also give up control of your child’s education.  Freedom to educate our children as we see fit is a big reason why many of us started this adventure in the first place.

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2 Responses to The Allure of FREE: Are state run online charter schools the right answer for homeschool families?

  1. jaylynn says:

    awesome school

  2. Lori says:

    We have used K12 in Michigan now for the 4th year, have 3 kids in it, having experienced grades K-4.

    1. and 2. Not sure what their pay is, but they do get to work from home. Most I’ve had have small children or new baby. I do worry that K12 could take advantage of that and pay them less. All have been happy, though “teaching” K12 is different from “teaching” in a classroom, so some have gone back to the classroom or used the K12 position as a fall back until they could get back in the classroom. The teachers we’ve had have been outstanding when we’ve needed them, but we rarely do. Other families with special needs kids or kids trying to catch up (I meet them at the social events and at the REQUIRED state testing) get more help from the teachers and some teachers have told me how wonderful it is to work 1:1 with families who are so involved.

    3. Travel: this is why we started with K12 and it has worked great. As long as we have internet access, no one even knows we are traveling (except you have to physically show up for the MEAP testing). If we are not going to have access for a few days, I just email the teacher and have never had a problem.
    4. Own pace: We have both worked ahead and been way behind (not in the schoolwork itself but in me checking off the work completed), the teachers are eager to work with you and will proactively offer IEP and catch-up plans. If you finish a grade level early, they send you the next level.

    5. Control over curricular content: Yes, i do use other curriculum (math in particular). The kids like the online math games and interactivity, but it takes too long to get through a lesson to get the objective. The history section follows Susan Wise Bauer’s “Story of the World” series, which I think is a classical education format, in a more simplified manner, so we supplement with Story of the World audios and use some Sonlight literature as well for readers and read alouds.

    Finally, K12 has given me the confidence to be a hoomeschooler and the time to really get to know how my kids think and learn. Their program is hard to get used to as it seems much of it is written in teacher language and they make things seem far more complicated than need be and when I (and many others without prior homeschool experience) started it seemed too much to do (now I see K12 offers lots of options to help different learned explore the concepts-you don’t have to do all of them or in some cases any). Now I pick and choose and feel no guilt, I can see how my kids are progressing I don’t need a teacher to tell me if they think they are progressing. Also, I have compared K12 to homeschool programs and honestly, the homeschool programs do it better and easier. But I stick with K12 because my boys love the interactivity of the online games (phonics, vocab, math, reading) and stories (history and literature). IMHO, public school format skims the top trying to have something for everybody, but using a virtual program allows you to pick and choose where you want to spend more energy and, in science in particular, choose which topics you want to do when. Then I get to enhance it all with our own field trips on our schedule.
    I’m so glad to live in a country and a state where we are free to choose. States have different levels of complication and I imagine that affects how K12 is implemented in different states (see http://www.hslda.org if you want so know how restrictive your state is).
    I’ve been impressed with K12′s continual improvement over the past 4 years, the courses and their system keep improving. There are things that still make me crazy and each year I weigh the pros and cons.
    Hope this helps someone out there…

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