Choosing an Online High School
The sheer diversity of online high school instruction means there are many approaches to curriculum, student development, and academic instruction. The initial step in making a decision about a prospective online high school program is assessing the learner’s needs and future goals and then researching the types of programs that would help the student attain his or her goals. To do so, parents should review a list of criteria, a set of factors that influence the general quality of schools offering online programs.
Below are points parents should consider before enrolling their children in an online high school.
The goal of accreditation is to ensure schools meet an acceptable level of quality recognized nationally or regionally. Certification means the online accredited high school is held accountable to an outside agency for academic performance and graduation rates. Most colleges accept only learners who have graduated from accredited institutions. Parents should ask the school about their accreditation standing, the accrediting body, and how regular accreditation is reviewed and renewed. A starting point for discovering accredited schools is AdvancED.org.
For learners, both transferring into and out of online programs, credit transfers are significant. Many secondary institutions will not accept credits from an unaccredited school. Parents should discuss the transfer process with both the school in question and the local school district to make sure credits to be transferred are recognized at other high schools. For parents seeking peace of mind, some schools provide an enrollment agreement, an agreement that acknowledges which credits and completed courses will be honored.
Parents should understand the type of curriculum provided at each grade level and how that curriculum is delivered. Keeping students engaged at the high school learning level is crucial, and the curriculum plays a significant role in engagement. Parents should review how every school develops its curriculum, how it aligns with state and national standardized testing processes, how courses are evaluated, and how teachers interact and communicate with students.
Colleges consider the quality of the learner’s high school when deciding about acceptance. Some states grade the performance of its high schools (traditional and online), issuing a report card based on graduation rates, learner and parent satisfaction, and student outcomes. Other areas to review comprise graduation rates (compared against traditional school rates in the area) and retention rates (the percentage of learners that enroll in the following school year). Taking collectively, each of those items can offer parents a general understanding of the online school’s academic quality and performance.
Student support is crucial to positive academic outcomes, particularly for online students. Parents should review the different kinds of services available to both students and the parents themselves. Does the school offer tutoring services? Are students assigned a learning coach to support the learning process? Are learners able to access school counselors? Is a parent network or community offered for parents? Does the school have a devoted staff for student and parent support services?
For online students, mostly those in grades 9–12, social opportunities are particularly important when preparing to continue into a college environment. Online instruction needs creative alternatives to socialization as students study independently. Parents should check the socialization opportunities through the prospective school, asking about the kinds of activities offered (like field trips, clubs), how online instruction can support socialization (like group projects, online collaboration), etc.
Just as in a traditional school, the instruction’s quality is determined by the teachers and instructors. Before making a decision, parents should review the necessary qualifications required for teachers to be employed at the school and the institution’s hiring practices and trends (e.g., the teacher turnover rate). Next, parents should ask about the educational and professional backgrounds of the educators. What kinds of degrees do they hold? Do they have professional experience in their field of study? Are teachers needed to undergo training or orientation to teach online?
Resources and References: