A Parent’s Guide to Alternative Education, Pt. 2: Choosing The Right School

In part one of the this guide we looked at the 4 different types of learners and talked about why it’s so important to learn not only your child’s predominant ‘learner’ type, but also your own. Now, in part 2, we’ll examine…

Schooling Choices

There are today more educational choices than ever before. And within those choices are sub-styles and theories of how children learn. Let’s take a look at a few of them and list each one’s strengths, weaknesses and learning style supports.

A few of the choices are:

  • Public School
  • Private School
  • Home School
  • Online School
  • Alternative School
  • Charter Schools

    1) Public Schools

Advantages to public school choices:

  • State supported so it’s free to you.
  • Schools teach a standard state curriculum geared toward state testing.
  • Depending on your child, these state test might help you determine your child’s academic strengths and weaknesses.
  • Free or inexpensive breakfast and lunch programs.
  • Teachers are required to be state certified.
  • Free transportation
  • After school activities may enhance your child’s passions.
  • If you have to work, and can work during the school hours, you’ll save on daycare costs.
  • Your child will become a part of the local community attending school with neighborhood friends.
  • Teachers teach because they love education.

Disadvantages:

  • Classrooms can be over-crowded.
  • It is difficult to get rid of a bad teacher once they’ve reached tenure.
  • Students are required to attend school in the zone they live in, so you are unable to choose which public school they attend.
  • There may be too much focus on state testing which limits the teachers’ ability to modify the lessons to her students’ interest.
  • Mainstream practices are typical which places struggling and gifted students in the same classroom.
  • Once a student has been tagged as a struggling student, they rarely rise above that line.
  • The peer environment rarely encourages gifted students or A students to their best. And struggling students often become targets of bullying from their peers.
  • Safety can be an issue.

Summary:

Public schools, with all their bad wraps, teach students how to survive in the grown up world. By answering to a wide variety of teachers, peers and politically correct material, students are prepared for working in the business place. However, the scars that can be left by peers, gangs, drugs and large crowds can confuse, influence and crush developing teens. Any time there is a large gathering of people, safety can be a factor. The wide variety that typically accompanies large public education can help a teen discover and excel at who and what they want to be.


2) Private Schools

Advantages:

  • Controlled environment with smaller class sizes
  • Curriculum is generally more challenging
  • Curriculum can be personalized
  • Relationships are more typical in a smaller setting which increases learning
  • Most private schools are religious based so character and morals are taught
  • Because parents foot the bill, books and supplies are newer
  • Competition keeps the schools cutting edge current

Disadvantages:

  • If you don’t want religious influence you don’t have a say
  • Teachers do not have to be state certified, but expert in their subject.
  • Sometime less able to include as much variety in subjects: IE-shop, dance team
  • Generally special education isn’t available
  • Sometimes trouble kids are dumped in private schools to be ‘fixed’
  • Typically transportation to and from school is on the parent
  • No free breakfasts or lunches
  • Some school do not have intermural sports teams

Summary:

Visual and auditory students do best in this fast paced learning environment unless their curriculum has been personalized. Stress can be an issue for some students. Strong readers do well with this program. Struggling students will continue to struggle unless the school is able to adapt. The strong moral and character development inside smaller classrooms serves personal growth well. Education without faith can leave some students always striving for the brass ring. A school that teaches spirituality trains internal peace.


3) Homeschool

School that stays at home can embrace a wide variety of definitions and opportunities. Generally students are taught at home by their parents, a tutor, online school, recorded school or a variety of all of these. Often parents will teach their areas of expertise and include one or more of the above mentioned styles.


Pros:

  • Curriculum choices
  • Parental involvement
  • Flexibility
  • Study areas of interest
  • Family togetherness/ family values demonstrated daily
  • Safety
  • Less wasted time so shorter days which leaves more opportunities to volunteer or specialize in a sport or passion – music, art, etc.
  • Multi-ages in one classroom teaches training, patience, mentoring
  • No transportation to school
  • Students tend to score better, enter college more prepared to learn

Cons:

  • Cost of materials and books
  • Parent preparation, instruction and grading
  • Multi-ages in one classroom
  • Lack of peer challenge unless you supply a place for them
  • Lack the variety of opportunities unless you seek them out
  • Challenged learners can have trouble getting into college, the military without a diploma or GED.

Summary:

All types of learning styles do well in a homeschool situation but hands on learners do extremely well. Parents can struggle creating and maintaining curriculum choices but they are also the teachers that know their child best. Generally home school parents are the best advocate for their students and are extremely conscientious. Physical education can be a challenge, but not impossible to accomplish. Colleges less and less balk at home schoolers and my experience has been that they welcome these students because they tend to score better than most.


4) Boarding Schools

A boarding school typically includes an educational school as well as room and board. Some schools may be Monday through Friday with students going home on the weekend, while others operate like an out-of-state college where students return home only on holidays.

Pros:

  • Personalize Curriculum
  • Higher learning levels
  • Easier transition into college (looks great on a transcript)
  • Students often build lifetime friendships
  • Maturity levels are higher; independence and problem solving evolves sooner

Cons:

  • Cost
  • Lack of parental influence and involvement
  • Homesickness
  • Peer pressure
  • Decisions may be made without adult resources or influence

Summary:

Generally audio/visual learners do best in this type of setting, however, due to the need for students to be so independent, with the right boarding school a hands-on learner, in particular, may excel here. One caution I’ve heard several times– these students predominately come from wealthy families, and more money can mean better drugs. Parents should do their homework when it comes to choosing a school, and strongly evaluate why they are sending their teens out of parental reach, and if your child is fully prepared for the opportunity.


5) Online Schools

Online learning is educational training that takes place over the internet. This doesn’t include stand-alone software, but rather teacher assignments and instruction done over the computer.

Advantages

  • Online schools through the state are free to you
  • Parents work with certified teachers
  • Student and parent (mentor) interaction and involvement
  • Work can be modified and completed at the student’s own pace
  • Interactive activities are planned
  • Allows student flexibility for their school day.
  • The school provides the computer and textbooks
  • Some curriculum maybe supplemented with videos, power-points and handouts.
  • School can be done anywhere.
  • Online learning students can advance at their rate and earn college credits before they finish high school.
  • In younger students K-7th or 8th, the mentor at home is required to facilitate teaching. If you don’t know what to do, but want to homeschool, this can be a good choice.
  • Student safety is not a factor.

Disadvantages

  • Students and parents that are not disciplined find follow through difficult
  • Often parents leave their children on their own to complete work and students receive less help when needed.
  • Internet access is necessary (cost), and gives your child access to unprotected net.
  • Requires the student to be a good reader and typing worthy.
  • In younger students K-7th or 8th, the mentor at home is required to facilitate teaching. If you are unable to spend the time at home, this program isn’t a good choice for you.
  • Struggling or special needs students don’t receive the help they need.

Summary: 

Visual students do best with online schools. One of the downfalls I’ve seen is when a parent is invested but is learning challenged themselves. This limits the students’ learning due to the limited parental ability. Also, if a student is not a good reader, online schools can be cumbersome for them. However if you student is a strong reader and is self-disciplined and motivated, online schools can be an exciting adventure. This program also works well for students that have special situations such as being an athlete with an intense workout schedule. Online courses are flexible and can be completed where ever there is Wi-Fi.


6) Charter Schools

Charter schools are public schools that cater to students needing a more flexibility in their teaching style or methods. Paid for with public school dollars and including parental and community expert involvement, often the student that might have dropped out will do well here.  Charter schools can be initiated by the school district, by teachers, by community leaders, or by parents.

Pros:

  • Individual learning plans
  • Extreme flexibility
  • Teachers that are expert in their field and not constrained by state tests or guidelines
  • Cost free
  • Can be made up of a wide variety of styles: online education, technical skill, internship learning, face to face instruction, book-learning. And each can be paired with required subjects. Example: literature can be credited by interning at a newspaper, or acting on a stage.
  • Smaller class size
  • Teachers choose their position, so they are committed to the process and program

Cons:

  • Transportation
  • Monitoring the student’s progress and/or at home learning
  • Wait lists can be long
  • At times more parent involvement can mean an agenda can be pursued that may not be to your liking. Do your homework.
  • No two charter schools are alike, so visit, study, and assess the school and your child’s needs thoroughly and carefully

Summary:

Finding the right school choice can be difficult, and finding the right charter school that will match your child’s needs will take diligence and patience. Ask how long the school and teachers have been around. Asking the teachers what they think makes the school successful may give you a heads-up on what they feel is a priority. The bottom line is, you are your child’s first line of advocacy and defense, so take the time to really know the school and what goes on. This is not a place where you can drop and go, expecting the teachers to do all the work (not that any schooling choice should be treated that way.)

Remember how I started out telling you to trust your instincts regarding your child’s learning? Do it. Be involved. Know what’s going on in the classroom. Don’t be an absent parent even during the teen years. Know what the school is teaching, how the information is being taught, and if your child isn’t getting it, don’t be afraid to make a change. What works for one child may not work for another. If you are observing your child and the schooling choice, you’ll know if it is a right fit.