What’s the Difference Between Homeschool and Online School?

When researching homeschooling options, parents are often bombarded by the wide array of choices between homeschool curriculum and online schools. So what is the difference between homeschool and online school you may ask? Online schools (also known as virtual schools or academies) often market to the homeschool audience for potential enrollments. Consequently, it’s common for one to wonder, “is homeschool and online school the same thing?” However, there is a significant difference between online schools and homeschooling. While it is entirely possible for students to study via public school or private school at home thanks to the internet, parents need to know that the difference between these online schools and homeschooling lay in state laws, requirements, and who maintains the final say of the education selection.

Is online school the same as homeschooling? In short, no. Here’s why!

What to Expect from an Online School

There is a type of schooling, officially known as “virtual schooling” that provides online school, depending on the state in which you live. Technically, this type of schooling is NOT homeschooling, although you DO receive it at home. Virtual schools offering free education are actually a type of charter school, usually run by private for-profit companies, who receive public funds from the local government for each student enrolled. Often this type of free online school requires the student to be bound by the guidelines of the virtual school where they are enrolled.

Online schools can be a good option for specific students, especially those who are involved heavily in outside activities such as athletics, acting, dance, or music because they allow for maximum flexibility in when and where the student’s studies can be completed. The main downside of online high school is a lack of oversight. If students aren’t extremely self-motivated to do well, and if a parent or teacher is not closely monitoring their progress, they can easily fall behind their classroom-based peers.

Further, online schools — both public and private — keep official records, including transcripts and report cards, proctor testing, award credits, and more. The online school is responsible for meeting state requirements, as well as choosing a curriculum, teaching the lessons, enforcing assignments and projects, while also creating and maintaining a schedule for students and parents.

Have you wondered, “Is homeschool and online school the same thing?” These are the main aspects of online schools:

  • Parents are considered “learning coaches”
  • Students are taught by certified teachers
  • Online schools must meet state requirements for each student
  • Online schools require admission, accept or request transfers, award credits, and keep official records
  • Online schools award high school diplomas in accordance with fulfilling state requirements
  • Schedules, rules, curriculum, projects, and events are scheduled and set by the online school administrators

What to Expect from an Online Homeschool Program

However, even if a homeschooling program is based entirely online, it does not mean it falls within the jurisdiction of online schools. Thankfully, there are plenty of wonderful homeschooling curricula available solely as online platforms. These programs are not guided by schools and are at the parents’ discretion in terms of lessons, pacing, reports, and more. Parents will still need to make certain they align with their state laws, however, beyond those requirements, the parents are welcome to choose how and when to homeschool!

Homeschooling specifically means that the parent or guardian assigns the work to be completed, oversees the student’s progress, tracks their grades and assignments, and even administers the official homeschool diploma. Homeschool curricula do not assign credits, accept or request transfers, or keep records. A homeschooling curriculum program is most often a set of lessons and/or textbooks with suggested assignments and projects, a scope and sequence, recommended schedule, and an answer key for the homeschooling parent. When using an online homeschool program, parents choose their own schedule and manually keep records. Within the United States, each state legally allows parents to award a recognized and official homeschool diploma to a high school student.

So where to start homeschooling? Kelly Stone, who has five homeschooled high school graduates (she signed the diplomas herself) says: “I like to provide a structured program that covers the basics of each subject and to do some project-based learning driven by my kids’ own areas of interest.”

If an online homeschool program comes with a ready-to-go curriculum and prepared lesson plans, its status as a homeschool option is not negated. Due to online schools often trying to hook potential students in search of homeschool options, there can be a lot of confusion regarding the answer to, “Is online school the same as homeschooling?” To make it clear, the main difference between homeschool and online school depends entirely on who is responsible to the state. That’s it. An online homeschool program with prepared lesson plans simply makes it a convenient and helpful option for busy parents!

A good example of an online homeschooling program with a much lauded reputation is Time4Learning. As a homeschool curriculum, Time4Learning provides the lessons, assignments, quizzes, and so on, and parents are responsible for teaching their students. Parents may use it however they please for their student’s individual academic progress, which could even include deleting, skipping, or repeating lessons as they see fit. If you have more questions on getting started, we love the free“Welcome to Homeschooling Guide” eBook from Time4Learning.

Here are a few key points with online homeschool programs.

  • The parent is considered the teacher
  • Parents are responsible for meeting state requirements
  • Parents may choose to compile a portfolio for their student, in addition to creating homeschool records — for example, a high school transcript
  • Parents award high school diplomas in accordance with their state guidelines, or when they feel their student has fulfilled high school requirements
  • The schedule, rules, curriculum, events, projects, and assignments are selected and vetted by the parent

Helpful Resources for Starting to Homeschool