The popular conception of high school in our collective memory is that of homecoming, study hall, proms and the principal's office. But now here comes the internet, which has already revolutionized so many other industries -- travel, dating, transportation, finance -- now starting to overturn the dominant high school model that has persisted for the last century. Enter online high schools leveraging technology, offering a greater number of options.
For some, the mention of online public high schools is a cause for a double-take. Do taxpayer dollars really go toward online schools? The short answer is yes. Public online high schools are usually monitored (and if worthy: accredited) by the state in which they are located. Some public programs may even cover the cost of your student's computer and internet access.
Web-based private high schools operate outside direct government oversight. There are already dozens -- if not hundreds -- of programs to choose from; they vary significantly in terms of quality, so make sure you do your research before signing up.
The private vs. public debate with regard to online high schools is not much different than it is for its brick-and-mortar counterparts. Private programs are much more expensive, but offer flexibility in terms of scheduling and curriculum, in addition to more one-on-one instruction with teachers. Regardless of your choice, you want to make sure the program you choose is 'regionally accredited.'
Many colleges, both online and off-, have realized the benefit of extending their program offerings down to high school students. These schools are then able to expand awareness of their brands to an audience of future students, while offering a permeable boundary between college and high school courses.
The quality of instruction spans the gamut from Stanford's gifted-student program to dicey, nascent schools that just opened up for business a week earlier. Again, the challenge is to make sure the program is regionally accredited.
University-affiliated online high schools often appeal to very ambitious students looking to graduate from high school and college in fewer than eight combined years. One of the major drawbacks, however, is the price. University-affiliated online high schools can cost even more than 'traditional' online private schools.
These schools are very attractive to a large following, as they blend many of the benefits of online private schools with the joys of not costing a dime. Online charter schools often attract the top students in a particular topic of study; the stakes are upped even higher when it comes to web-based schools because the inherent atemporality of online programs means they cover more physical territory, and therefore more potential students.
Many also wonder about the difference between home-schooling and online high schools. And of course the confusion is somewhat understandable; fundamentally, both practices center on the experience of a student learning outside the traditional, corporeal classroom. Additionally, both online learning and home-schooling allow students to learn in the comfort of their own homes, adding elements of convenience and safety.
But there are also many distinctive factors. The biggest difference is that online programs assume the responsibility for curricula. More succinctly, parents who home-school their children need to research and create lesson plans. On the other hand, online high schools come with syllabi baked into the product; tried and tested methods have gone into the development and study of how students learn each subject best. Parents take on the responsibility of monitoring their students' homework and examinations, instead of having to create them.
In the final analysis, with greater freedom comes greater choice. Online high schools offer families greater convenience, safety and cost-effectiveness when it comes to learning. And, accordingly, students can freely choose from many options within the online education world.