Ultimate Guide to Online Middle School
The growing popularity of online learning goes beyond adult learners; according to reports, the number of middle school learners enrolled in online classes increased by up to 80% from the 2009-10 school year to the 2013-14 school year. Many parents are turning to online schools, homeschooling, or hybrid programs to offer a flexible, customizable, and self-guided education that meets the differing needs of their learners.
Why Choose an Online Education
While online learning is not for everyone, the range of choices and programs available have proven to be highly advantageous for some students.
Hybrid or blended programs combine components of both face-to-face and online learning. These programs provide the best of both worlds, affording learners the flexibility and autonomy of self-guided online learning without forcing them to miss out on the traditional classroom’s collaborative and social learning atmosphere. This is advantageous for students who want to make up missed or failed classes or earn extra credit by enrolling in courses that are not offered at their school. Learners who struggle socially may also find that online tutoring relieves some of their daily pressures and enables them to perform to their greatest potential.
Online schools are programs in which learners complete all of their coursework online. Students who frequently travel, either because of their parents’ occupation(s) or their own activities (like entertainment and athletics), often find this learning style especially helpful. Web courses help students stay on track, allowing them to complete middle school promptly and transition to a four-year high school effortlessly.
Studies have shown that advanced (or “gifted”) learners thrive in an online learning setting. Middle schools across the country now provide courses that help above-average students earn credits needed for high school education. In the meantime, private online academies have created comprehensive curricula designed to build skills and competencies for gifted teens and preteens.
Learners with Special Needs
For similar reasons, special needs middle school learners may also benefit from online courses. A wide range of web-based programs are structured for independent study, allowing students to absorb information and complete assignments at their own speed. Some online middle schools also provide curricula specifically designed for learners who struggle with writing, math, reading, or other core subjects; certified teachers are available to work directly with learners and address individual concerns with each offered course.
Online learning can serve students with a wide range of disabilities, like autism, ADHD, and physically limiting conditions such as multiple sclerosis.
At-risk learners may likewise thrive in other online programs. Factors like low socioeconomic status, poor academic performance, or a lack of positive role models at home might put a learner at risk. Lack of encouragement in academics is one of the key reasons why many learners drop out of school and join the real world without the preparation they want to launch successful careers. In order to create a supportive environment, these learners require online learning centers to pair students with learning teachers to help them stay motivated in their course work.
Learners in Overcrowded Schools
Schools have also started providing online courses to mitigate challenges associated with high student-to-teacher ratios. If your teen is a gifted student, at risk of failing in school, special needs learner, or otherwise needs specialized course work, a good first step is to meet with his or her educators and school counselors to establish which (if any) online program may be the most beneficial.
Evaluating Online Schools
It’s crucial to carefully research your options when selecting the best course of action for your teen’s education. Each online program you consider, whether private or public, must be able to demonstrate that the level of education provided meets or exceeds a traditional school’s.
Online Middle School Accreditation
Accreditation has been regarded as the measuring stick for high-caliber education, but with the rapid rise of virtual learning centers, new processes for assessing and accrediting these programs are still being established. Thus, while hundreds of online United States schools offer middle school programs at quality levels comparable to their traditional counterparts, identifying the best programs can be tricky.
The United States Department of Education doesn’t maintain a registry of all nationally recognized accreditation organizations for primary and secondary schools as they do with colleges and universities. That means for middle schools, accrediting bodies and their standards differ by state. They are also different for private and public schools, whether they are offered online or not.
Some online schools may be accredited by one of the regional accreditation boards recognized by the United States Dept. of education — but a lack of accreditation from one of these boards isn’t necessarily a bad sign. Notably, there are six of these boards, all of which are also recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Parents and guardians can be assured that online middle school programs accredited by these departments have been reviewed and meet established learning standards.
There are numerous other private, major accreditation bodies whose seals of approval are a trusted sign of legitimacy. Parents can look for other quality-indicators such as endorsements, awards, and additional accreditations on each school’s website.
Accrediting agencies conduct thorough assessments so that you do not have to; their approval should stipulate whether or not a learning institution is qualified to offer an outcome-driven, high-quality middle school education.
When assessing any online school, it’s also important to consider whether the credits earned there will be transferable to traditional schools or other online schools. Audit the school as well as its programs by the same criteria that formal accrediting agencies do. Ensure the school provides:
- Available archived course materials, study aids, and other supplemental resources to assist learners in their course work.
- Easily accessible call center or online help desk with support staff to answer questions and guide learners and parents through the virtual learning experience.
Furthermore, check your state’s core public school standards to ensure that courses and services meet these standards and prepare learners for successfully completing the state’s standardized tests. Programs should be equivalent to those taught in public and accredited private schools and transferrable in the event an online learner opts to attend a different school.
Cost of an Online Learning
The cost of attending an online middle school differs greatly. As with brick-and-mortar schools, online public programs are totally free, while private programs have a designated tuition enrolled family must pay. Nevertheless, parents should anticipate some costs for enrolling their learners in either a full-time or part-time online middle school.
The average cost of a full-time private school for secondary school learners in the United States is estimated at $13,000 a year, even though online private schools are generally cheaper than their traditional counterparts. Keep in mind that most web-based learning centers provide part-time middle school programs for free.
Although there are no official tuition costs to attend a public school online, both public and private online programs will charge for supplementary courses and materials on a student-by-student basis. Many of these costs may be voluntary, depending on the program. Here are some charges that could be included:
- Travel costs for field trips or extracurricular activities
- Course materials and textbooks
- Materials needed for specific core classes or electives (lab equipment, art projects, and calculators, for instance)
- Computer and critical learning system software
- Registration and application fees
In a fully-online program or course, learners interact almost exclusively with web-based applications and media. It’s no question that these web platforms’ quality and usability play a significant role in every online learner’s success. That’s why it’s vital to compare each school’s interface before committing to a program.
Because almost every middle school in the country now incorporates digital tools into the classroom, your middle schooler is perhaps more familiar with the kinds of multimedia they will be working with than you are. Still, online classrooms and content present a totally different kind of learning experience. There are numerous learning management systems (LMS) utilized by online learning institutions, geared toward tracking course materials and completing online delivery. Most allow for tailored pedagogy creation, live chat, as well as sharing for students, and networking possibilities.
Most online schools, particularly private ones, employ learning coaches to assist learners and provide an extra support source. Unlike teachers, mentorship programs, or other real-world options, access to online learning coaches is usually free-of-charge through online learning platforms; if the school charges a fee, then these individuals’ services might be included in the tuition.
To evaluate the quality of a particular online school’s faculty and learning instructors, visit the school’s website to read more regarding the instructors’ qualifications and methods that would be working directly with your teens. All teachers should be certified, full-time instructors who are trained precisely in facilitating an online classroom. Or, call the school directly and ask about their qualifying processes compared to your state standards for private and public middle school instructors
Resources and References: