Brazilian Chef Alex Atala said, “If we want to do amazing food, we need amazing ingredients! To find these ingredients, we need to find another person who loves that ingredient as much as I do.” Chef Atala’s sentiments are not only true for food, but online schools as well. Great online schools are built by passionate people that take serious every ingredient that goes into creating and running a school. What follows is a list of various elements and indicators that a parent should take into consideration when choosing an online school for their child.
As an alternative destination, online schools typically have lower graduation rates than brick-and-mortar schools. This could be for reasons such as attracting students who are already credit deficient due to challenges in their previous educational setting and yet it is every public school's responsibility to understand the struggles of their particular student body and help them graduate.
To find a school’s graduation rate you have to look no further than the state report card (found here) to find the report card you need to know the school’s sponsor district.
Every school has a Mission statement. According to Ed Glossary, “A mission statement, or simply a mission, is a public declaration that schools or other educational organizations use to describe their founding purpose and major organizational commitments—i.e., what they do and why they do it.” Good schools make educational decisions based on their mission statement; bad schools have a vague mission, which may be vague and/or seem inconsistent with the way the school runs. You should be able to find a school’s mission statement on the school website.
What kinds of assurances does the school make in the area of technology? Some online schools give only one laptop per household while others give every student a laptop. By law, every online school must provide students with the technology needed to be successful in their program; however, some schools make it hard to get more than one computer per household. This policy could raise problems for those families that have multiple children in the same program.
Schools handle the issue of internet access differently. Some schools give students internet cards or hotspots, at least one gives a small stipend for the internet, and others just expect all their students to have access to the internet on their own. Even if you have high speed internet and computers at your home, you should still look into this issue and find out how your school addresses it because how they address systemic inequalities reflects the school’s commitment to their students.
College or Career Preparedness
Is the school’s goal to help students meet the minimum requirements of graduation, or is the school committed to preparing students for a future beyond school? To determine the school’s commitment to your student’s long-term well-being, one can look at the state report card, the technology they give the students, and the school’s mission statement. Good schools create situations, projects, and experiences that not only give their students the chance to graduate but equip students with the skills and prerequisite knowledge needed to excel in whatever career path they choose.
If your child does extracurricular activities, you may want to make sure your choice of school is going to become or is already a member of the Oregon Schools Activities Association (OSAA) and that your child would be NCAA eligible upon graduation.
Online teachers don’t have to worry about the same class management issues as brick and mortar teachers. If a student is acting up in a live session, an online teacher can suspend their ability to use the class tools. The tendency for many online schools is to pack classes as full as they can and to emphasize the curriculum, not the teachers when the discuss the merits of their program. It is not uncommon for an online teacher to have 150 students in one class. Unfortunately, large classes hinder a teacher’s ability to give quick and thoughtful feedback as well as the teacher’s ability to respond to each student’s individual need.
Teaching-and-learning has always been about a relationship between the instructor and the student. Generally, online programs with a large student-to-teacher ratio will have more teacher turnover because the burnout rate is greater. My suggestion would be to use teacher-to-student ratios as a comparison point when choosing between programs.
Role/Expectations of Involved Adult/s at Home?
Many online programs rely on an adult in the home to oversee the child’s progress through a curriculum and/or to log attendance for the child. This kind of system works best when the child has a parent or guardian who does not work or works from home. Other online programs put the responsibility more on the teacher’s shoulders like it would be in any brick-and-mortar school. You will want to make sure the school fits your lifestyle; if the school is self-paced and has a high student-to-teacher ratio you should make sure you have the time and space to help teach your child.
What is the school’s stance toward curriculum? Does the school buy a fixed curriculum, that is to say, a prescribed curriculum that is written at a single Lexile level with one or two types of assessment that the student goes through on his or her own, or is the curriculum created by the teacher? The answer to this question is telling. Programs often bill themselves as able to tailor to each student individually but run a program where the student goes through lessons and assessments that are created and sold to schools across the country with no specific student in mind. Most of these concrete curriculums rely on multiple choice quizzes and formulaic writing prompts. Multiple choice is a really cost effect assessment tool because it can be scored by a computer, but it is hardly inspiring. Furthermore, lessons that end with the same sort of assessment will not help a student become a creative problem-solver. Students ought to be subjected to open-ended assignments and projects with multiple paths to success. This kind of educational experience will better prepare them for the ambiguity and even risk of the world outside of school.
Virtual education is a wonderful option for a child. Many students thrive in the online environments and find that this kind of education fits their needs better than a traditional school. However, not all online programs are ran the same way. Below is a list of online schools in the state of Oregon. While we are partial to our own program, we encourage you to look at others and find the best fit for your student. Good luck.