Education Your Way: School Alternatives

In today’s educational landscape there are many different options through which one can attend school. Understanding these options can be a daunting task for a parent as their differences can be slight and vocabulary unfamiliar. The difference in a program a family chooses to use can carry slightly different names but vary greatly in result. So, let’s take a close look at some of the different programs available and some of their key differences.


Perhaps, the most confusing term related to school choice relates to home school. That is because students and parents often use that term to describe any time spent enrolled at a school that doesn’t happen at a school. However, families are often using this term too generically. This is sort of like someone saying “I’ll have a coke” when they really mean they’re going to have any type of soda, not necessarily a Coca-Cola that comes in the bright red can. To be precise, the term home school means the parent is controlling what is taught to the student. If they want to spend 6 hours a day teaching about the cultivation of fig trees, well they can do that. And if they want to, they could call their cultivation of fig tree class United States Government. I should note that I’m not suggesting that any homeschooled family has done anything like this.. I’m just trying to make the point that the family is fully in control here. Homeschooled students must also be registered as such with their local school district and document in one of a number of ways that they are progressing in their education. Another very important note on home school is that it doesn’t award a high school diploma--not an accredited one at least


Many other students will not come to a physical school but will receive their education online. There are private and public online schools. Some of the public ones are run by the district, some by the state, some by the school, and some by third party vendors. The biggest difference here is that these institutions will award a diploma. Students attending an online school don’t have the same autonomy that a homeschooled might have in choosing their curriculum but they do have considerable flexibility in when and where they attend class.


The line between online schooling and homeschooling can become really blurry when a family chooses to use an online school provider to supply their homeschool curriculum. This a common practice especially at the high school level because few families feel qualified to teach a variety of more complicated subjects that one typically finds in high school.

Ultimately what this means is that students and parents need to be careful with the terminology they use. Don’t order a “coke” if what you really want is a Dr. Pepper. There is a lot more to consider and a lot more involved when choosing to become homeschooled or taking school online. Both of these courses of study take self discipline from the student and parent and neither typically entirely cut out public school districts. As you meet with school officials be certain you understand the terminology you are using and don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.

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Rob Hicks, M.Ed. is a school counselor at Fernandina Beach High School. He is author of, and writes for numerous educational publications.