Homeschool ProgramHomeschool Program – Ten points to review before choosing a homeschool program.

Here’s ten main points to look for in a homeschool program and the reasons why.

1. How many years in existence?

It is crucial the school or homeschool program has operated longer than 13 years so curriculum, procedures, and structure are polished. It is also essential they have more than 13 years of experience with their online curriculum too. Many programs and online schools haven’t been in existence long enough for a 1st grader to graduate. You especially want to be careful with: brand new school at home structures, programs with inexperienced distance learning teachers, and programs that require video facetime! You don’t want your child’s education to be an experiment! How many years in existence?

2. Is it an accredited homeschool program?

Many homeschool programs say they are accredited, but some homeschool programs do not have a regional accreditation or only have regional accreditation for some grades. It can be very beneficial to use a homeschool program or online school that has an accreditation from an accrediting agency recognized by your state’s Dept. of Education. It does not mean you will have to sacrifice Christian or other values in the curriculum! An accredited homeschool program or online school will have a school number to use for college entrance, military, college financial aid (FAFSA), etc.

An accredited program may help you get credit for completed high school courses if you should ever transfer to a campus-based school. Some states that have tougher home education requirements may look more favorably if you use a regionally accredited online school. All states recognize the regional accrediting agencies of SACS, MSCHE, NCA, NEASC, WASC or Advanc-Ed. Look up a school here to see if they have a regional accreditation. Some states also recognize additional religious or independent accrediting agencies. Is it accredited?

3. Do they offer a combination of paper-based subjects and online subjects to transition first-time online users toward online education?

Very few homeschool programs offer a combination of paper-based and online formats it.  Many homeschool programs force you to choose either all paper-based curriculum or all online-based curriculum.

Online curriculum has many advantages over other formats. Many online programs offer instant answer re-enforcement for non-essay answers, so the student can instantly see wrong answers. This is much better for memory processing rather than waiting for assignments to be corrected. Online subjects also have multimedia and extra digital tutor features if needed. However, younger online students may not be used to working on a computer all day. Younger students no longer receive as much handwriting experience. Students in 3rd-5th grades may need some paper-based work time to break up their computer time the first year they begin online subjects. A combination format also gives more reinforcement time with penmanship. This can even be true for students new to online learning all the way up to 8th grade! Every student’s situation is different!

When can an online format begin?

Most homeschool programs avoid online subjects below 3rd grade for several reasons. These younger students do not have sufficiently developed hands for proper keyboarding and ergonomics. Penmanship and handwriting experience also needs developed during 1st-2nd grade levels. However, many parents and educators feel 3rd grade and older students do very well with online curriculum, but some benefit with a transition year using a combination. Your child may benefit from a combination format program for at least one transitional year. Do they offer a combination of paper-based and online formats to transition 3rd-8th grade students if needed?

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4. Do they include standardized achievement testing? 

It does not mean they are aligning with common core state standards, but is a sign the school is monitoring its academic results for success, weakness, and improvement.  You should be concerned if the homeschool program or online school does not use assessment testing to measure achievement over the last year. Although some states exempt homeschoolers from testing, approximately 20 states require achievement test results to be occasionally submitted to the local school district. Using a homeschool program or online school that facilitates testing may prevent the student from having to test in unfamiliar surroundings. Check homeschoolingbystate.com for specific testing requirements for your state. You should note if testing is a hidden or extra cost of the homeschool program or online school when comparing tuition. Do they include nationally normed testing to meet local requirements if required?

5.Do they provide student record maintenance? 

It is a plus if the new school will assist you with the transfer process from the prior school. Some schools will contact your previous school to take care of everything. It is essential the new school will make sure your child’s academic record is in good shape, even if it was not before. Will they build or maintain a cumulative folder in case you ever transfer to a different school?

6. Do they offer extra academic support options?

Many homeschool options place the student’s academic help entirely on the parents. Even if the homeschool program offers course counseling, it is not the same as day to day academic help. One important academic help to look for is if the homeschool program includes “subjective scoring”. Junior high and high school students will normally write full sentence or paragraph answers for portions of several subjects that a computer system cannot score. This can consume much time and energy if that responsibility falls on the parent. Having subjective scoring available may be the difference between success and failure for some homeschool families.

Academic support is normally a great financial value when considering the time it can save a parent. If you are a work at home parent, this is vital. Also, you may need a program that also includes academic help. Some families need a different person to assist with occasional academic challenges. Some students are more motivated if someone else besides Mom or Dad is also expecting achievement. Additional academic help can free the parent to focus on encouragement. It can also keep a parent from burning out. Some schools do not automatically include academic help so they can keep the cost down for families that do not require it, but offer it as an option. Do they include or offer an academic help option if you need it at some point?

7. Do they offer kindergarten through high school graduation?

It can be beneficial to use a homeschool program or school that offers all grade levels. This gives families the opportunity to continue with procedures and structure they already know as their child advances. In tougher school districts, staying with the same homeschool program can make the annual registration process much easier. It also allows different aged siblings to enroll in the same program for efficiency and continuity. Are they a K-12 program?

8. Are they a nationwide program?

Although families do not plan on moving, it happens. A nationwide homeschool program would not require any school changes if the situation ever arises. Using a homeschool program with a regional accreditation is very helpful, because they are recognized nationwide. Online charter or online public schools are often limited to residency in a geographical area. Most homeschool associations are built with local support features and are also limited to a small geographical area. Does the homeschool program have any local or state-based dependencies that would prevent you from using the program elsewhere? 

9.Are they a larger school or program?

It is not always the case, but large homeschool programs grew large for good reasons. Larger programs also have some benefits a small program may not be able to provide. A larger program may be better, unless you can get more information about the smaller homeschool program. School districts and other agencies may respect a larger school or program in their evaluations if it ever becomes an issue. Does it appear they have many other families using the homeschool program?

10. Do they offer sufficient high school science labs to prepare for college level sciences?

Make sure your homeschool program offers sufficient high school lab kits for core high school science courses. Even if the lab kits are optional, you should consider it if the student might pursue a science-related field. Some colleges and transfers to some high schools will scrutinize the incoming student’s science lab experience. Even some accredited programs do not offer enough hands-on experiments and lab work. Do they use an exceptional high school science lab structure or at least offer it as an option?

Bonus Question. Do they offer an individualized, mastery-based curriculum? 

Many do, but you should check! This is a more crucial question than ever before! For many students, the covid-19 issue has disrupted traditional education. Experimental thrown-together alternatives are unproven. Many students did not master all the concepts normally taught at the end of this last year. In some cases, this may continue to happen! An individualized, mastery-based curriculum is by far the most efficient method to learn! It will allow students to work at their unique speed. It will make sure students do not advance until they know the concept. AND it easily allows the use of a diagnostic tool to make sure important concepts have not been missed by the student in the past! Read more about why it is so important.

One other benefit of an individualized, mastery-based system is it allows some schools to have a flexible student calendar. Some may offer a year round structure where vacations and breaks can be taken when it’s best for the family. A year round schedule can also protect from unexpected interruptions. It can protect if a student may need more time on a subject.   Do they use an individualized, mastery-based curriculum?

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