Cyber school is a virtual education option for students in the K-12 grades. They can operate through public school districts or charters while the child gets to learn in their home environment. Although it is technically a form of home-schooling, it is different because the parents are not entirely responsible for the delivery of the curriculum.
These virtual schools are a recent innovation thanks to the Internet’s revolution of the distant learning process. The University of Phoenix became the first institution to launch an online curriculum at the college level in 1989, while Jones International University became the first entirely online accredited institution in 1996.
Virtual school is most common at the high school level, but some districts are embracing this idea for their highly capable students. The International Association for K-12 Online Learning developed a set of best practices to accommodate this method of education in 2007 and then updated in 2011 to ensure every provider receives accreditation.
If you are considering this option for yourself or your student, then there are several cyber school pros and cons to review.
List of the Pros of Cyber School
1. It is still part of the public school system for many families.
Going to a cyber school is very different than being home-schooled even though students take lessons in the comfort of their house. Parents are not responsible for the purchase and implementation of the curriculum with this option. There is no responsibility to report a child’s progress to the state either. Everything is free and taken care of for you as it would be in a traditional public school.
Once a child successfully enrolls in a cyber school, then they receive a teacher assignment. Their academic subjects and lessons are posted online to complete. Then the finished work goes through the school’s website for evaluation.
2. There are online forums available for students to meet their teachers.
Cyber schools provide their students with an “office” that allows them to meet with their teachers for instruction even though they are at home. These forums allow for typing and standard messaging, voice chat, or video calls. When kids need assistance with a lesson for any reason, then they can go to this area of the site to speak with their teacher. Most institutions offer designated times each day that teachers are available so that the information from each lesson can be reinforced as needed.
3. Students are asked to attend live classroom sessions in cyber school.
Kids still attend a classroom environment when enrolled in a cyber school. They will watch their teacher on a video call or listen to them on audio. Each child receives encouragement to listen and interact during these live lessons Most teachers will have their students form groups to complete some assignments together, and then there are independent requirements to meet as well.
The group study sessions work in a way that is similar to how kids and speak with their teachers. Each assignment may offer text, audio, or video communication to facilitate the assignment.
4. You can still use cyber schooling options with an IEP.
If a student has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a learning disability that requires extra services, then these options still receive services through the school district. Most cyber schools provide a certified teacher who will be the child’s case manager or learning coach to create a successful educational experience. This individual will review concepts in the live resource room through text, audio, or video chat options. They’re also responsible for making whatever modifications or accommodations are necessary for the successful implementation of the plan.
5. Cyber schools provide therapy options for students.
Many cyber schools offer access to resources like counseling, occupational therapy, or speech therapy to the students who might need them. This structure makes this home-based option very much like a traditional school. Some of these services can be delivered virtually if the child’s therapist agrees upon the condition. There are options delivered in person if the provider lives close to the family or it is a requirement of the IEP.
6. You still get to have parent-teacher conferences in a cyber school.
The parent-teacher conferences at a cyber school are a little different than what you’d see at a public school but offered in the same manner as the lessons that kids receive. You can often hold them over a phone or video conference to go over the materials and any concerns that might be present. There is a physical building where some teachers may wish to meet with parents in-person to discuss challenging situations.
7. Students get extra downtime during the day when attending cyber school.
There is free time provided during cyber school hours so that students can chat with each other. These interactions are directly supervised by staff to ensure the social connections are positive and progressive. Parents also have the opportunity to observe these moments with their children. Because chat dialogue creates a written record, there are fewer questions about the interactions that kids have with each other during these moments.
This advantage makes it a lot easier for students to form connections when they would struggle to do so in person. When the schools have a field trip, school dance, or another in-person event, then it can be a lot easier to meet someone after speaking with them before online.
8. A lot of cyber schools use points instead of the traditional grading system.
Students who attend a cyber school usually focus on points instead of earning a traditional grade. Teachers will provide assignments with a specific number of points possible from its successful completion. You must reach a specific total or percentage during the quarter, trimester, or semester to achieve a passing mark. The benefit of this structure is that you can often catch up on points by completing past assignments, so there is a lot more flexibility in this structure.
9. Cyber school is a useful way to cut costs for districts.
Teacher salaries are one of the primary drivers of educational expenses for school districts around the world. Cyber schools are an attractive option to many communities because it is a fast and easy way to cut costs without reducing the quality of the available information. Any technology that allows a teacher to instruct more students without losing the quality of their work can free up money that becomes useful for other purposes. Schools that create personalized digital content might not see this advantage, but the K-12 structure that uses already-approved curriculum options can experience significant savings over time.
10. Cyber schools still implement standardized testing when required.
If local laws, rules, or regulations require students to take standardized tests, then a cyber school complies with that option. This advantage occurs because the institution is typically part of the public school system. Instead of administering these tests over the Internet, students must come to a central building or one of the community’s schools to take their assessment. They’re proctored by the staff and follow all required guidelines to ensure there is an accurate measurement of understanding provide.
11. Most schools provide the equipment that a student needs to learn.
When your child qualifies or elects to pursue cyber school as their primary educational option, then most districts provide the student with a laptop they can use for classes. Parents are usually responsible for providing Internet connection or Wi-Fi. Some schools have been known to subsidize the cost of that service as well if a family qualifies financially to do so. This structure makes it possible for students from almost any background to begin learning in a way that suits them well.
12. Cyber schools offer more curriculum choices than traditional institutions.
Online courses offer the potential to improve instruction opportunities at each level of education. Cyber schools make it possible to create adaptive courses that let students learn at a comfortable pace. Materials can receive an adjustment so that it fits remedial needs or encourages advanced learners to keep pushing themselves. This structure makes it possible for schools to open more curricular choices to students in districts where a lack of specialists may make it impossible to do so otherwise. Rural districts see a lot of success because of this advantage because one teacher can manage more students throughout their day.
List of the Cons of Cyber School
1. There are fewer opportunities for in-person interactions.
Cyber school might have a different structure than home-schooling options do today, but it still comes with the same interaction disadvantages. Students have fewer opportunities to work or play with their peers in this setting. You can still socialize through the online resources available with this structure, but those interactions are not always of the same quality as a face-to-face conversation. That’s why some districts host social activities outside of school, run field trips, or use Wimba or Elluminate to facilitate learning in this area.
2. It can be challenging for students to stay focused in cyber school.
There can be a lot of distractions to manage for students who are trying to learn at home. All it takes is one phone call for the day to lose 30-60 minutes of quality instruction time. There might be a visitor at the door that sets your dogs off barking. There might be doctor appointments, a trip to the dentist, and the usual temptations of electronics to juggle that aren’t always present in the traditional classroom. You must take a proactive approach to managing these situations to prevent distractions from happening. Kids don’t do well when trying to multitask, so they might learn less in a chaotic home environment than they would in a challenging classroom space.
3. You are at the mercy of technology.
If your equipment breaks down for any reason, then the cyber school option will not work as intended. There are several different pieces to this puzzle that must all work together to ensure that learning is possible. Your computer, modem, and router at home must function correctly to access the website where the learning takes place. The host of the site must be up. You need to have ISP access to receive or send information. There are several factors that fall outside of a family’s control, making it a somewhat unpredictable way to approach daily schooling.
This disadvantage also has a second layer to consider. If a family doesn’t have the money to purchase or lease the necessary equipment for a cyber school, then there are relatively few ways for that student to enjoy the advantages of this concept.
4. Cyber school might not offer an accurate representation of student learning.
Before there was widespread access to the Internet, students learning at home often had access to an answer key at the back of their book. If the child wasn’t properly supervised, then they could use that resource as a way to provide correct answers to some problems. Cyber schools have a similar problem thanks to the worldwide web. Many of the answers to the lessons offered are one simple Google search away. Unless the problems are set up in such a way where there must be evidence of understanding as part of the answer, intelligent students can “fake it to make it” for their grades.
5. Some colleges do not recognize the grading system.
Colleges and universities often look at a student’s GPA as one of the admission criteria. There are others that come under consideration, such as an SAT or ACT score. When students are earning points instead of grades, then it is not always possible to meet the standards set by the higher level of learning. You may need to convert the total number of points into a traditional grade to complete applications or risk not being able to attend the school of your choice.
The problem continues into the workplace if students decide to pursue a vocation instead of an undergraduate degree. It can be challenging to obtain a good job in some environments because there can be a lot of skepticism about the quality of an online education from a cyber school.
6. Some students may not learn as well in a cyber school environment.
A 2017 research student by Susanna Loeb and Eric Bettinger from Stanford University found that online courses from for-profit institutions are a poor option for students who are not prepared to learn. Online results were substantially worse than what was achievable with a face-to-face course. The results were lower grades, less success in subsequent classes, and a higher risk of dropping out. Since kids in this situation often face more challenges than their counterparts, this disadvantage means that proactive interventions must take place to ensure a positive result is possible.
Chicago tested 17 high schools to see what would happen to students who failed algebra during the year. During the summer recovery course, kids were randomly assigned to cyber schools or face-to-face lessons. Those who worked online were 0.2 standard deviations lower, reducing their chance of passing the course from 78% to 66%.
7. It is easier for students to get stuck on an assignment when attending cyber school.
There are times when kids can become confused about the instructions they receive to complete an assignment. It is not unusual for them to have questions about how to participate in specific lessons. The teacher interactions can help to avoid this disadvantage somewhat, but there can also be issues that occur outside of the regularly scheduled office hours where no help becomes available.
Since kids can’t see their teacher and some instructors don’t have a chance to respond immediately, children can become frustrated because they don’t know how long it will be until they get the help they need.
8. Parents can sometimes provide too much help to their students.
This disadvantage applies to all schools in some way. Some parents are so involved with their child’s education that the line becomes blurred as to where the student’s work ends, and the adult work begins. That makes it challenging for schools to properly assess kids because the parent might be doing all of the work. The only measurement tool becomes the standardized test that is proctored directly, but those happen 1-2 times per year only. It is much easier to manipulate this system compared to other forms of schooling that are possible today.
9. Most kids require some level of adult monitoring throughout the day.
Unless you have an older child who can work independently and is comfortable staying home by themselves, a parent or guardian must monitor them each day. This issue can be problematic if the student has no motivation to complete the work. There can be arguments about how many assignments must be completed during the day. It’s a far different structure than a public school where the teachers are the ones responsible for getting kids to complete their work each day. This disadvantage also means that a parent might not have an opportunity to continue with their career. If the family relies on that income, then cyber school could change their lifestyle in ways that might not be seen as positive.
The pros and cons of cyber school are essential to review when considering this option for your child. Some kids thrive in this environment, while others struggle to find any success. When online classes focus on providing accelerated curriculum choices for students who are already prepared academically for new learning challenges, then this option tends to see the highest levels of success.
Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.