By now, every K to 12-aged kid in America figures they’ve been “homeschooled.” After two-plus years of sitting up in bed in the early dark and logging into a laptop for roll call and public school-provided teaching sessions, the difference between “homeschool” and “school at home” has become blurred until most people think the two terms indicate the same education model.
But it’s not so. And if you’re a parent homeschooling your children, you really should know the difference.
SCHOOL AT HOME
The closest substitute term for “school at home,” would probably be “virtual school.” In this model, the parent has no control over what’s going on in terms of curriculum, testing and accountability. (NOTE: This is different than “tutoring,” which involves hiring a third-party teacher who reports to, and is accountable to you, the parent.)
“School at home” is very similar to the parent being an employee of another entity – generally, the public school system. The parent gives up control to the school system that is providing the “virtual school” instruction on a day-to-day basis.
As a parent or guardian of a student (or students), if you have established a home school situation for your children, you are not operating as a quasi-employee. You are basically a small business owner, responsible for every facet of your child’s education. You call the shots. You do not report to a school system. You choose and/or develop a curriculum that’s right for your children and your family values. You develop reinforcement activities for your kids. You create assessment tools (most often, tests), develop ways to operate “out of the box” to keep your students engaged and interested, and you reinforce independent learning and critical thinking skills to guide your children into and through their adult lives.
WHAT JUST HAPPENED?
What happened is that, because of widespread safety fears related to the COVID pandemic, 58+ million U.S. public school students were quickly pushed into the biggest school-at-home experiment ever conducted. (In all fairness, the school system had little choice. The temporary switch had to be made for the sake of the safety of our children. Better to bet on keeping kids home where they would be safe, rather than tossing all caution to the wind.)
From March 11, 2020, through the 2020-21 school year, every state – and generally most school districts within each state – were dropped into an unknown reality where they had to create a remote or “distance” learning plan, more-or-less “on the fly.” No one had ever done this before. It was a giant experiment assigned to everyone by an unprecedented force of nature.
This meant that, based on the usually creative and varying style of curriculum development and lesson planning, results were different – sometimes even from teacher-to-teacher in the same school. But one thing is certain – this was NOT traditional home schooling.
Homeschooling looks nothing like what public and private school students participated in for the duration of the pandemic. Any failures or shortcomings of the “school-at-home” experiment cannot also be attributed to home schools. In fact, public schools learned a great deal from their home schooling colleagues during the two-plus years of lockdowns and school closures.
ADVANTAGES AND DISADVANTAGES
Of course, neither school-at-home nor home school models are perfect. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach. Here’s an abbreviated look at the pros and cons of each style:
- The educational aspects of school are taken care of by someone other than the parent. This is an advantage to working parents who do not have the option of taking on the full-time job of running a school.
- A great approach for parents who feel they do not have the skills or training to be a teacher.
- A good option for parents who are experiencing life changes necessitated by transplanting the family for military or other reasons. Especially if the plan is to eventually return the kids to a traditional brick-and-mortar education arrangement.
- A workable option in emergency scenarios – as in the past two-and-a-half years.
- Curriculum is pre-determined – no parental choice.
- Scheduling flexibility is greatly reduced – you’re still operating on the school district’s schedule.
- There’s no opportunity to individualize curriculum or pace of learning for each student.
- Students have less time and fewer opportunities to pursue their own educational interests.
- Curriculum is created by the parent/teacher – complete parental choice.
- Provides the opportunity for parents to either teach courses or find other resources to assist in teaching.
- Total scheduling flexibility. Instructional time can occur any day, any time.
- Parent/teacher has the option of creating completely individualized lesson plans for their student(s).
- Learning can occur at an individual pace structured to the particular needs of each child.
- If your child has problems reaching age-appropriate learning levels, you have no automatic backup assistance available.
- Your job includes creating socialization opportunities for your students. This can be time-consuming and difficult.
- You may not be appropriately prepared to work as a teacher and administrator.
- Managing a homeschool situation is time consuming. You are in charge of everything with no automatic support system. You must develop a support system on your own.
When thinking about the differences between school-at-home and homeschooling teaching models, remember that online school, even if done from home, is not really homeschooling unless it’s separate from public school or private school oversight. What we all were doing during pandemic lockdowns was more like “crisis schooling” than it was like home schooling. No one, including schools and school districts, teachers, parents, and veteran homeschoolers, was prepared for what had to be done.
Many families and students can benefit from the flexibility and personalized learning models of homeschooling. Some families prefer additional structure and accountability and not having to “run the show.” When deciding which route to take, remember that school-at-home and homeschooling approaches are not the same and the decision to choose one or the other must be made carefully.
Global Student Network is a leader in online home school curriculum, and offers a variety of choices for any learning style. Learn more at www.GlobalStudentNetwork.com
International Virtual Learning Academy is a full-accredited online school and is a perfect school-at-home option. Learn more at www.InternationalVLA.com.