A growing number of parents are opting to buy online education services from private companies rather than enrolling their kids in traditional public schools, even though there’s evidence that doing so makes it easier for children to learn in a way that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to.
In a recent survey of more than 1,500 parents, most cited a number of reasons for their choice, including convenience and cost, said Laura DeYoung, an associate professor at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center for Education.
In the survey, parents also cited the fact that the technology has improved in many ways.
Online education has become a more affordable option for parents and schools.
A $3,000 package from a nonprofit called EducationFirst that includes online classes, tutoring, reading, and a virtual tutor for children up to age 5 costs just $15.
The cost of traditional education, including teacher training, is about $35 a year, DeYoung said.
“The value of these options is that they are free,” she said.
“The reality is that there’s not a whole lot of value to that.”
For example, Deyoung said, most kids who attend traditional schools have to spend an average of two hours a day in class, and there’s no substitute for having a dedicated teacher, so students have to learn and grow in a group setting.
“We’re not going to have enough teachers, and we’re not having enough support, for every student,” DeYoung explained.
Some parents also cite the cost of online instruction as an important reason to choose the program, especially in states that are struggling to fund education.
“Many parents who have taken the leap are willing to pay $3 a month for a kid to have that online learning,” Deyoung noted.
In 2016, the state of Washington had the third-highest percentage of kids attending traditional public school in the country.
The state has since passed legislation to expand access to online education, but some schools still have limited or no access.
While DeYoung believes that the online offerings offer the best value for money, some parents also say that they’re frustrated that their kids have been left behind.
“I feel that if they go to school, it’s really the kids that get left behind,” said Susan Ewing, whose 10-year-old son attended the state’s first charter school in Washington state.
“I don’t want him to have to sit at home, go to a class, or learn in an isolated environment where he can’t really interact with anyone.”
A lot of parents have expressed a desire to go back to traditional public education after they leave their child behind, DeKnight added.
But even if their child goes to an online school, parents need to remember that the cost can be more than the value of a traditional public classroom.
A recent study by the Center for Public Policy Research at the Brookings Institution found that traditional public-school teachers earn about $6,000 more than their online counterparts, but the cost for an online teacher to teach an online class can range from $50 to $300 more than an online course.
The study also found that teachers are less likely to get paid if their students are students of color.
“Online programs are less expensive to run than traditional public public schools,” said John Cottam, the center’s director of research.
“But there are still things that have to be considered.
Schools that are underserved or underfunded are at higher risk of underutilization.”
DeYoung said that the most important thing parents need in order to get their children online is to make sure they are connected to a teacher, and to keep them from leaving their home and moving into a more remote school setting.
The Brookings study, however, found that parents in states with more expensive education costs were more likely to report having no access to an instructor or teacher-led classes.
“Parents who are concerned about whether or not their child is going to be able to access an online program are going to want to make those arrangements with their local district,” DeKnight said.
DeYoung added that while some parents may be willing to accept less-than-perfect online instruction, others have been less willing to go along with a lack of support.
“Some parents may not want to pay more money to go to online school,” DeLeary said.
But if you’re not sure what kind of school to send your child to, DeTeens suggested that you consider how your child might benefit from an online learning program.
“If it’s going to take your child a while to figure out how to navigate the curriculum, that’s okay, but if it’s not going do any of the things that your child needs, then there’s a need for a classroom,” she explained.