Online Public School vs. Traditional Homeschooling

Online public school and traditional homeschooling are very different. A couple years ago, one of my friends was excited to tell me that she was starting to homeschool her daughter.

“What homeschool are you signed up for?” She asked.

At first, I didn’t understand what she was asking. How do you sign up for a homeschool? After a few questions, we clarified that her daughter was attending an online public school offered by our state. I started seeing other new “homeschoolers” in my online support groups wondering what homeschools everyone was signed up for and complaining about their kid’s homeschool teacher.

I stepped back and realized that many people don’t know that there is a big difference between homeschooling and attending school…at home.

Homeschooling, in its traditional sense, is a parent or guardian taking control of their child’s education and teaching them at home. While every state has different laws on how to get started with this, the traditional homeschooling option is legal in all 50 states in the US (at the time this article was written).

An online public school is a state run program. It is public school at home. While there may be some flexibility, the majority of online public schools have teachers with guidelines, due dates, state testing, and no control over what is taught. For some parents, this is an easy way to have their child home with them while not having to worry about curriculum choices or if their child is learning what they should.

The main differences between online public school and homeschooling are:

    • Parent is in control of their child’s education.
    • Parents responsible for adhering to the local homeschooling laws. Some states give full control to parents, while others have more regulations and red tape.
    • Parent will act as teacher, administrator, guidance counselor, etc. 
    • Parent chooses curriculum (if desired).
    • Parent in charge of socialization options.
    • While children are at home, parents don’t have much control over what their child is learning.
    • This option usually provides a certified teacher, textbooks and a schedule of courses to complete by a certain date.
    • Students will likely have to participate in standardized testing and may be required to attend face-to-face meetings a few times each year. 
    • Socialization opportunities may be provided by the school.

Which option is best for you?

That really depends on your family’s needs. Some families will start with online public school, decide it’s not for them, and gently transition to homeschooling. Other parents know from the start that they want to have more flexibility and control over their student’s education. 


What if my child is taking courses we picked out online? Is this considered homeschooling?

Many homeschoolers will choose online courses or classes outside of their homes. This is still homeschooling. The family is still in control of the student’s education.

Why do homeschoolers get so upset when other parents call an online public school, homeschooling?

Each family has its own feelings on online public school. Some members of homeschooling groups expect support from parents that are in the same boat. They are looking for parents that are having trouble finding curricula, looking for socialization opportunities or searching for help navigating their state’s homeschooling laws. Public school at home is not homeschooling.


Have you used an online public school before? What was your experience?

Photo Credit: Ed Yourdon

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