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Online school refers to accredited institutions that offer courses online that can, at least in principle, be used for high school course credit. Online schools may be used in any of three ways:
- As diploma-granting institutions: The student takes enough courses at the online high school to qualify to receive a diploma from it.
- As a supplement for students at brick-and-mortar schools.
- As a supplement for homeschooled students.
Advantages of online schools
- Better material and teaching for intellectually gifted and curious students (the human capital advantage): The details vary based on the nature of the school and the course, but in general, online schools are targeted at intellectually gifted and curious students. The material is therefore better designed to stimulate and challenge such students, in contrast with brick-and-mortar schools that generally cater more to average or somewhat-above-average students.
- More stimulating peer group, and possibly friends and connections for later life (the networking benefit): Other students who select online schools are likely to be more intellectually gifted, curious, and self-motivated (in so far as succeeding in online school requires more self-discipline and intrinsic motivation to work hard). Interacting with these students can be an educational and stimulating experience. Some of these fellow students may also become useful friends and connections for later life.
Disadvantages of online schools
- Absence of face-to-face and meatspace interaction: Many people are stimulated and motivated to work by face-to-face interactions in meatspace. It is easier to fall behind on coursework in online school. This effect, however, is arguably less strong for intellectually curious and intrinsically motivated students, so the disadvantage turns into somewhat of an advantage because of the selection effect on the peer group.
- Cost: Online school costs quite a bit of money relative to free (government-funded) public schools. The cost differential is to a large extent an effect of the fact that government schools are funded through taxes rather than fees and hence have low out-of-pocket costs, rather than because brick-and-mortar education is actually cheaper to deliver. From the point of view of paying students or parents, however, the cost of online schools can be a deterrent. Note, however, that online schools are considerably cheaper than elite private schools.
Online school as a supplement for students at brick-and-mortar schools
Questions to consider regarding credit and course transfer
- Can the student use a course done at the online school to substitute for an equivalent course at the brick-and-mortar school he/she is attending, in terms of prerequisites for future courses?
- Can the student use a course done at the online school to meet the "number of courses" requirement in any given academic block (semester or year)?
- Do colleges recognize grades obtained in online schools when evaluating student transcripts?
Lists of top online schools
The list here is drawn from the Hoagies list, with some names added.
We have been in touch with students who have taken classes at these schools, and have received generally favorable feedback about the school:
- Art of Problem Solving offers accredited school classes for middle school and high school. However, its courses are restricted to mathematics, and it therefore does not suffice on its own.
- Stanford University Online High School offers classes for grade levels 6-12. Stanford High School can be used to supplement existing schoolwork or to grant diplomas. Stanford High School is linked to the Stanford Exceptional Program for Gifted Youth (EPGY) -- people in the EPGY can take classes from Stanford High School. But others may also enroll in Stanford High School classes.
The following schools are in the Hoagies list above, but we have not had personal contact with students who have been to the schools, so do not have an inside view of their operation: