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  • Sharon Lawler-Sudell

When one-size-fits-all doesn’t fit? Online schools on the rise: 5 Key Questions for Parents to Ask

The Rise of Online Schools

The rise of online schools has had parents, educators, and kids watching what next disruption is around the corner. A lot are questioning what they believed and what they want for the future of education.

During the pandemic, traditional brick-and-mortar schools around the world were thrust into online learning due to quarantines and safety concerns. The reality was that most learning in that moment of time was based on emergency, cobbled together programs, built with best intentions and zero notice. Plus, many working parents were also grappling with newfound work-from-home paradigms that they needed to manage, just as their child had a new online assignment or technology question. Stress levels were reported everywhere…but amidst the rubble, this unplanned beta test showed that while some students struggled, some actually thrived.

According to a study of student perceptions of online and face-to-face learning, "Online learning allows students to work at their own pace and access educational materials at any time, providing a more flexible and individualized approach to learning." Flexibility in scheduling is one of the most significant benefits of online learning, according to a study published in the International Journal of Curriculum and Instruction (IJCI). The study found that students who participated in online learning environments were able to balance their academic and personal responsibilities, such as work and family, more effectively compared to those who participated in traditional, face-to-face instruction. Furthermore, students have the ability to work at their own pace, providing opportunities for those who may need extra time to grasp the material and for those who excel to move forward quickly.”

Now, as many students have returned to traditional classrooms, statewide statistics show that all have not. There has been less attrition in homeschooling numbers from peak levels during the pandemic as well as state-level online programs. This indicates that parents are finding benefits for their student, either through the environmental changes, type of instruction, and in some cases, flexibility. Yet, it is not all one-size-fits all.

An Online K12 School Case Study

ISAonline is an example of an online school that recognized there is both a need and an impact of finding the “middle.” Backed by International Schools Services, a leader in international education services, this K12 pilot school provides, “experiential learning with a classroom feel.” Students have hands-on projects that are not all tied to device time and the unique part of the model is authentic interaction with teachers, who know their students and provide personalized support. This intersection of online flexibility and direct contact with educators is novel in the industry and difficult for the big box educators to replicate due to expensive staffing needs.

The school gains strong credibility through its partnership with globally-recognized International School of Aruba and its unwavering commitment to excellent education. ISAonline curriculum is aligned with the US Common Core standards and uses standard-based assessments to determine a pathway that is just right for every individual student. Students are tested in math, reading, and English/language arts at the beginning, middle, and end of each school year using  NWEA MAP assessments. 

Since beginning the pilot, parent reviews have been stellar but also diverse, further underscoring why one-size-fits all is elusive, other than a more flexible program. Some parents cite that their children are thriving due to the customization and focus on their children’s academic needs. Others state their children are happier due to having less classroom distractions or negative social dynamics, while still feeling connected to teachers and fellow students. Some parents have been relieved that the program has less real-time parental demands, much like a traditional classroom, but offers all of the benefits of having their children learning at home. Parents of student athletes, who can regularly miss brick-and-mortar scheduled classroom times due to travel or games, are also finding the flexibility liberating, without reducing academic rigor.

Theresa Montenarello, ISAonline Program Director, and educator, comments:

“ISAonline is a refreshing alternative for families around the world. Our students have opportunities to showcase their talents, receive direct support from our compassionate teachers, and rekindle their joy of learning. Our parents are relieved to be part of a school that embraces individuality and empowers their children to make a positive impact in their own unique way. With our focus on building community in an online setting, we have seen students thrive that otherwise may have been lost in a traditional brick-and-mortar school.”

5 Questions for Parents to Ask About Online Schooling

As parents of primary school, middle school, and even secondary school students begin to evaluate whether an online school, or a unique one like ISAonline, is right for their children, it is recommended to ask these questions:

  1. What are the biggest challenges for my child in a traditional in-person classroom environment?

  2. How would my child benefit from more personalized learning?

  3. Will my child value having online school friends in a safe environment?

  4. How could the flexibility of an online program improve our life quality vs. traditional brick-and-mortar program?

  5. Do I have stable internet?

Tuition costs are also a key consideration. With a school like ISAonline, a student receives the equivalent of a private school education and associated quality. Some free programs may be more point-and-click driven with little to no interaction. According to a March 2022 article by US News, “Families interested in private online school will find annual tuition can vary substantially; a recent search found options starting under $2,000 per year and going up to $14,000." ISAonline program is priced under $6,000 per year, with discounts for families with more than one child. The school is currently expanding and is currently accepting applications for ages 7 to 14.

Is Online School Right for You?

Every child learns in their own unique way. Some children benefit from all of the interactions that they get from a brick-and-mortar school, but many others struggle with the limitations of a traditional classroom. Online schooling offers an innovative alternative where kids can learn in a way that personally caters to their needs, while still benefiting from human-to-human interactions and real-world applications, all from the comfort of their home.

As the world has changed drastically in the shadow of a global pandemic, schooling has transformed as well. Online schools present an exciting opportunity for students and parents who are looking for a shift from the norm. Could online schooling be the right fit for your child’s needs? Well, with more and more online schools opening each year, now is a great time to find out!

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