Evaluating High School Diploma Options — Distance Learning
By Bob Sweeney
Families pursuing legitimate (i. e., widely-recognized) high school diplomas have three options: public schools, private and religious schools, and distance-learning schools. For homeschoolers, only the latter option is generally possible, because the other schools require physical attendance.
Are they good diplomas?
Parents and children should be careful about investing their time, effort and money in a distance-learning school if a legitimate diploma is their goal. Not every school that advertises a diploma can produce a diploma that “counts” to public schools, colleges and employers. Keep in mind: anyone can create a diploma, even parents.
How to find good schools online: Family priorities
The first step in finding a worthwhile distance-learning school is defining your family’s goals and priorities. Many types of schools are available, and none is appropriate for all children.
Some questions to ask are:
· Is the child an independent learner, or does he/she need direct attention or close monitoring?
· Does the family situation allow for a fixed academic schedule?
· Will the child have access to a computer?
· Is the child comfortable with computer use? The parents?
· How much time can the parents invest in their child’s coursework?
· How much money can the family afford to spend on the school?
· Is it important that the school be religious or secular?
· Is the student intending to move on to college after graduation? Is he/she looking for advanced placement or Honors courses?
· Does the child have “special needs?” (Note: many “learning disabilities” are situation-dependent and do not interfere in appropriate distance-learning situations.
Once your family has answers to these questions, then it is time to look at individual distance-learning schools. Surfing the Internet locates scores of distance-learning schools of every stripe, many of which are not worth your time, and wading through the sites can boggle the mind. Fortunately, there is a shortcut to the best schools, which offer legitimate diplomas.
How to find good schools online: Accreditation
The indicator of a good distance-learning school is good accreditation (see box). Of course, many schools cite accreditations that have no value; some schools even “accredit” themselves! So, finding claims of accreditation on a school’s website doesn’t mean much.
To find schools with meaningful accreditation, look at www.accreditedschools.org and choose “CITA Accredited Distance-Learning Schools” from the dropdown menu. You will find a listing of schools with CITA accreditation and schools that are candidates for accreditation. Accreditation and candidacy are very different conditions; most candidate schools are in the process of pursuing full accreditation. Use this list as a starting point for your school search, and focus at first on the fully-accredited schools. These schools definitely can award widely-accepted high-school diplomas.
Briefly explore each school, knocking out schools that don’t fit with your family’s high priorities. Make a short list of the remaining schools, and look at these more closely.
Expect to find a very diverse collection of schools, and try to keep your mind open to new ways of learning! Some schools use standard public-school textbooks, others involve no hardcopy books but have all texts online. Some schools focus on classical literature, some are project-based. Students can become part of a virtual classroom, or have direct one-on-one interactions with their online teacher, or be taught at home exclusively by their parents with limited involvement by the school. The variety is amazing, and each system works very well for certain students.
The child should be actively involved in selecting the school! The school’s system must work well with the child’s learning style and temperament; otherwise, this method of education is doomed from the start.
If you find a few schools that appeal to your family, call them and ask about their programs. Can you easily reach a real-live person when you have questions? Are your questions answered directly and straightforwardly? Do you want to deal with these people for years?
How NOT to choose a school
Don’t be swayed by snazzy websites with fancy graphics, although confusing websites may indicate an unorganized school. Also, the quality of a school is not reflected in high expenses or large enrollments. Any CITA-accredited school is of high quality.
Distance learning in West Virginia
From my reading of the state code, children who are enrolled in private distance-learning schools are technically homeschooling. Distance-learning schools have no status in the WV code, and the private-schooling statutes only apply to state-recognized private schools. However, the record of student work from a distance-learning school can be easily converted to a portfolio for annual assessment, and the annual standardized testing is always an option. In open-minded counties, the easiest alternative could be an agreement (in writing) between the school board and the parents to substitute school grades for the annual assessment.
For more information, visit http://www.distancelearn.about.com/od/virtualhighschools/ , http://www.distancelearn.about.com/od/accreditationinfo/a/accreditation1.htm and the pages linked from this site.
Author’s Note: I am a homeschooling parent who also works for an online high school, CompuHigh, which is based in Morgantown. The statements in this article are my own, and do not reflect WVHEA positions or endorsements.
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