Should You Go Back to School? Homeschooling, Online Schooling, and Your Other Options

High school can be boring at the best of times. But with the pandemic, online and hybrid learning poses a whole new set of challenges.

As of Kate Brown’s announcement July 28, 2020, Portland Public Schools will be virtual until at least November. This means months more of online education—video lessons and Google Classroom assignments—with teachers who themselves are learning to teach remotely.

Like last spring, some teachers will be more successful than others. And like last spring, learning remotely will be more of a challenge for some students than others.

This raises the question of whether school is in fact the best way to learn.

Should you switch to homeschooling? All the learning is happening at home anyway. And there are other options: online charter schools, online academies, or some form of tutor-supported education. This article will walk through all of them, giving you the rundown of pros and cons and the resources to decide how you’ll learn this year.

1. Portland Public Schools: Hybrid School or…?

Pros:

  • Stay with your friends
  • No paperwork or application
  • Possibility of in-person learning  

Cons:

  • It’s unpredictable
  • Teachers are inexperienced with digital learning  
  • You could get sick—or pass corona to someone you love

This is kind of the automatic. You don’t have to do an application or fill out enrollment paperwork. No one has to look up Oregon learning standards or plan curriculum. You just show up at school—or on Zoom—and the classes will be there. 

It’s easy, and it has the possibility (after November at least) of being in person. You’ll have your friends and know which teachers to avoid. But there are serious disadvantages too. 

All the teachers you know from your high school are used to teaching in your high school—that is, they’ve been teaching in-person for their whole careers. Most younger teachers will find going online annoying, but a lot of older teachers simply won’t know how. Even if they get their classrooms online, they won’t have the experience and the skills to teach remotely. Which means their classes may be not only boring but also ineffective—leaving you with important gaps in your knowledge. 

Just as concerning, PPS doesn’t know what the rest of the school year will look like. We all saw schools shut down in March and the subsequent scramble for organization. If schools open again (and it is a big if), they’ll probably be testing out some form of hybrid education—and you’ll be the guinea pig. 

If you are immunocompromised, in-person classes also pose a real risk. And even if you aren’t, you may pass it on to someone else. The possibilities for spread are daunting. 

And, with little to no notice, schools may have to close again. 

2. Homeschooling: It’s in Person—but It’s Work  

Pros: 

  • It’s predictable 
  • It’s in-person 
  • You have control over the curriculum

Cons: 

  • Family time 
  • There’s a learning curve
  • It’s a lot of work

When people consider alternatives to school, the first thing that comes to mind is usually homeschooling. Usually, it’s ruled out simply for the strangeness of learning at home. But right now everyone’s learning at home, so it seems like an obvious option.

And in some ways it is. Homeschooling avoids the uncertainty of public school closures and offers the only possibility of in-person learning. It also means you can control the quality of the classes and the content, which no other option really guarantees. 

But that control comes at a cost—time and energy. Someone has to file the paperwork to say you’re homeschooling. Someone has to go through the Oregon learning standards and plan a curriculum. Someone has to teach you. And someone has to sign up for the standardized tests and possibly drive you and hopefully the curriculum covered everything you needed to know. 

Also, with homeschooling, that someone is probably someone you know—most likely a parent—which has its own pros and cons. Teaching loved ones is a challenge at best, and depending on the relationship near impossible. It means even more family time when we’ve been cooped up together for months. 

Tutoring can help with most of these concerns—see the tutor section below—but homeschooling remains the most labor-intensive option by far. 

3. Online Charter School: Homeschooling Without the Effort

Pros: 

  • Can choose leaders in online education
  • More virtual education experience
  • It’s predictable

Cons: 

  • Score in the bottom 50% of public schools statewide
  • No control over curriculum 
  • Mixed reviews

Although school and homeschool often seem like the only options, there are actually other alternatives. Online charter schools offer a kind of middle road: a planned curriculum with hired teachers but independent learning options. Right now, when all learning is happening remotely, they also offer years of experience public schools don’t have. 

K12, the leading online learning platform nationwide, recently hired more than 1,300 teachers. They already have curriculum and class plans that educators accustomed to in-person lessons are scrambling to create. They enroll over 1 million students. And their educators are trained in the nuances of remote learning. 

There are two main tuition-free K12 high schools in Oregon: Insight School of Oregon and Oregon Virtual Academy. Both of these schools use the veteran K12 curriculum and offer personalized teaching by Oregon licensed teachers. They also have electives—including AP and career classes—and extracurriculars. Beyond K12, there are other remote charter schools, including Connections Academy and Metro East Web Academy

The question, then, is whether online charter schools are the best option for you. The learning is 100% remote, but at least they optimize distance learning—and the plan won’t change halfway through the year. Like homeschooling, they require some extra paperwork (depending on the school, applications and enrollment), but they take away all the effort of curriculum planning and teaching independently. 

As convenient as not planning curriculum may be, it also has a cost: you have no say over what is taught or the quality of that teaching. Both OVA and Insight School fall in the bottom 50% of Oregon Public Schools according to Niche, with respectively 21% and 14% of students proficient in math. You could learn in these schools, but it is not a given. 

4. Online Academies: Private Online Schools 

Pros: 

  • High quality education 
  • More virtual education experience
  • Can choose schools that would look impressive to universities

Cons: 

  • Paid
  • Expensive
  • You need to apply

If you want quality education from online school, you have to pay. Stanford has an online high school, but it costs over $24K a year (the application deadline is also past). George Washington’s is relatively cheap at only half that—but it’s still $12,000 dollars you could have saved.

Granted, the education is superior. Of all the online platforms, these are by far the best. Students have access to the best educators and go on to the best universities. They have resources they otherwise would not have and the institutions are designed for online learning. 

But you have to decide if it’s worth it. Some, like Mizzou Academy at the University of Missouri, cost significantly less (Mizzou charges per semester course, at $500 each). Scholarships can also be available, though they usually require additional applications. And the logistics of applying—if applications are still open—may prove overwhelming during a pandemic: recommendations, essays, and sometimes standardized tests. 

The question becomes, if you’re putting that much money toward education, are these online academies really your best option? 

5. Tutor-Supported Education

Pros: 

  • Personalized attention 
  • Connection-based learning 
  • Can be combined with other schooling options

Cons: 

  • Not a full package solution 
  • Quality can vary 
  • Prices can add up 

If you’re going to invest in education this fall, tutoring may be a better choice. For one thing, it would be cheaper—two sessions a week comes out to less than quarter the price of Stanford’s high school. More importantly, it’s a better investment. 

Tutoring allows you to choose the school format that best suits your needs—and then to get the support to succeed in that format. It can give you the skills to learn online independently. Although online high schools may provide quality material, that experience does not necessarily teach you how to learn on your own.

Tutoring occupies a unique position where tutors can not only help you learn your subjects, but also teach you to become a better learner. Because tutoring is individualized, tutors can tailor your lessons to use your strengths and overcome your challenges. They can also take the time to set personalized goals and support you in achieving them. 

If you choose to stay with Portland Public Schools, tutors can provide the guidance to smooth whatever transitions may come throughout the school year. If you’re homeschooling, tutors can teach the material more effectively. Whatever the school you have chosen, tutors can make that format actually work for you. 

Even in online sessions, sitting with a tutor offers the kind of connection we have all been missing. Tutors have the time to care not only about your studying, but also about your life more broadly. We can have real conversations. And we can get to know you and the ways that you learn best. 

Learning during COVID is difficult at best. Everyone’s worrying about a pandemic, and you’re trying to stuff new information into your brain. You can’t talk to your teachers or see your friends. But it doesn’t have to feel impossible—or even unenjoyable. There are tools tutors can teach you to make learning—even online, quarantine learning—exciting and effective. 

The highly adaptable and personalized nature of tutoring is its greatest feature. But it also makes for greater variability in style and quality of service. It can be hard to know what to look for, and finding the right tutor is key. The good news is that private tutors and tutoring companies alike generally don’t require a huge commitment to try their service. At Emergent Education, we offer free consultations and a pay-as-you-go rate that make it easy to try us out.

Final Thoughts: 

No one knows what the next year will bring, so it’s important to find a form of education that will work for you. Online learning can be hard, and public schools may be unpredictable. You have more choices, though—and whatever you choose, tutoring can personalize the material, build connection, and give you the skills necessary to learn independently.

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