Online Charter Schools: Everything You Need to Know

The type of school you choose for your child’s education could change the course of their life forever. If you’re a parent, you probably already understand the critical weight of the decision. It only makes sense to learn everything you can about your options. 

And with more parents choosing online charter schools than ever, it’s time to get to the bottom of this often-misunderstood type of education.

Ready to become an expert on online charter schools? It’s time for a master class. Below, we lay out everything you need to know about online charter schools.

What Is an Online Charter School?

Let’s start with the basics: What is an online charter school, and what do these institutions do? 

Essentially, an online charter has two distinct features. First, it operates in a fully online environment. That means classes take place online. Second, it’s run as a charter school. 

Not sure how a charter school works?

Charters are public schools that aren't regulated by a school district’s board. Instead, charter schools set regulations via an independent board. They still abide by national laws, but they’re required to uphold an agreed-upon set of standards called a charter. 

Like traditional public schools, charter schools are free and open to the public. This is a major difference between charter schools and private schools, which do charge tuition and often have exclusionary enrollment standards.

Are Online Charter Schools Becoming the Norm?

Despite not being well understood by many, online charter schools seem to be racing ahead of other school systems. Since 2000, the number of students choosing public charters has increased more than sixfold

It’s no secret online education has exploded in the last year. Still, even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced online learning into the fast lane, it was a growing trend. In fact, as of the 2015-16 school year, nearly 60 percent of public schools had already adopted some form of online learning. 

Why are so many educators, parents, and students choosing to rush to online charter schools?

Online charters are producing impressive learning outcomes—and many are noticing for the first time.

What Are the Benefits of Online Charter Schools?

Wondering what’s behind this surge toward online charter schools? Online learning and charter school education each bring strengths to the table, and when they merge, students reap a wide range of benefits.

1. Benefits of Online Learning

Flexible Scheduling

Online learning lets students break free from the confines of a traditional bell schedule. Rather than waking up early, rushing through the morning routine, and racing to catch buses, they can craft their schedule to fit their natural rhythms. Flexible scheduling is especially beneficial for several types of students:

  • Student athletes: Student athletes have to balance practices, training, travel, and games with their school day. That can be a daunting task when schooling is regulated by a strict bell schedule in a particular building. Online learning lets student athletes craft their learning schedule to fit with their goals and location.
  • Performing artists: Performing artists need to develop their craft and attend events such as workshops and rehearsals. With online learning, they can shift the learning day in a way that helps them reach their full potential.
  • Homeschoolers: For homeschoolers, adjusting to the structure and location of traditional schools can be overwhelming. Online learning lets these students continue their education in a setting they’re comfortable with. 

Faster Learning Growth

When used appropriately, technology can dramatically improve the learning experience. For instance, the best online programs now come equipped with self-paced learning programs that move with the student. In a traditional classroom, students are forced to learn in a particular style and at the speed of the group around them. With self-paced programs, they can spend more time on difficult subjects or accelerate faster through topics they understand well.

2. Benefits of Charter Schools

More Advanced Teaching Methods

It’s no secret that bureaucracy can stand in the way of progress. When it comes to learning, this can mean standing in the way of learners’ futures. Unfortunately, traditional schools are at the mercy of school boards. Some of these boards are quite large, and it can be difficult to get approval for a new idea, even when experts pinpoint a better learning method for students.

However, charter schools are much more nimble when it comes time to implement advanced teaching methods. Because they agree to requirements on a more local level, they’re able to make teaching progress more quickly.

More Targeted Learning

Although charter schools have more flexibility and freedom to shape classrooms in nuanced ways, they’re also under high pressure to deliver learning results. If a charter schools doesn’t lay out clear learning goals and achieve them, it may risk losing its charter. Because of this pressure, charters often turn to targeted learning and focus on reaching students on a deeper level.

Smaller Class Sizes

Here’s the sad fact: Too many traditional public schools are overcrowded. And the consequences are more severe than most realize. It’s a factor that is contributing to a learning deficit in public schools nationwide, in which well under half of 12th graders are proficient in reading and less than a quarter are proficient in math.  

Not all charter schools make individualized learning a priority, but they’re naturally positioned to promote personalized learning. Because charter schools often focus on small class sizes, conduct consistent one-on-one sessions, and use technology that tailors learning to individuals, students are able to get the attention they deserve more often.

Ready to experience the Method Schools difference? Learn more >>

What to Watch Out For

Unfortunately, not all online charter schools are set up to deliver outstanding results for your student. Just as with other systems, the quality of education will depend on the specific institution. Here are some potential hazards to watch out for when picking an online charter and how to avoid them:

1. Sub-Par Curriculum

Just because online schools have the ability to drive higher learning results doesn’t mean every school will do so. Too often, parents will fall into the trap of sending their child to an online diploma mill or an unaccredited online school. 

The result? Students are left undereducated and unprepared when it comes time for post-secondary opportunities.

Before you pick an online charter school, make sure it checks those boxes that indicate it features trustworthy curriculum:

  • It’s accredited by a major regulatory body
  • Its coursework meets the standards of strict post-secondary systems, such as UC A-G
  • If your learner is a student athlete who wants to move up to the next level, the school should feature coursework approved by the NCAA

2. Distance Learning Novices

As schools rush to offer online learning programs, many instructors find themselves in an unfair position. More and more, teachers who are unfamiliar with distance learning are expected to immediately learn to use new forms of technology and adjust their teaching styles. 

The reality?

Often, you or your student will have to teach the instructor about the technology. As instructors fumble with these new teaching tools, your student is sure to grow frustrated and lose interest altogether. 

You can avoid these setbacks by picking a school that’s staffed with distance learning experts. Online charter schools with experienced teams in place already know how to use technology, and they know what works—and what doesn’t—when teaching online. 

3. Crowded Classes

Not all online charter schools prioritize small class sizes. Large classes can easily leave an instructor spread too thin and students falling behind. Be sure the online charter school you choose features small class sizes so your student can get the attention that will shape their future for the better. 

How to Choose the Best Online Charter School for Your Learner

If you’re picking out an online charter school for your learner, it’s worth it to be picky. Here are a few final ways to choose the best online charter school:

1. Pay Attention to Teaching Styles

The best online charters will emphasize targeted learning. Be sure to do research on the online charter school you’re considering and confirm that it emphasizes targeted direct instruction

2. Prioritize Self-Paced Learning

If an online program doesn’t grab and keep your learner’s attention, they can easily get distracted. That’s why it is important that you choose an online charter school with engaging and self-paced learning. These programs adjust to your learner and provide them with focused, need-based lessons.

3. Examine the Curriculum

The curriculum is the skeleton supporting your school’s learning programs. It’s absolutely essential that you can trust your school’s curriculum. Double- and triple-check to make sure the online charter school you choose has a rock-solid curriculum before enrolling.

Send Your Student to an Online Charter You Can Trust

Looking for an online charter school and an online learning environment your student can rely on? Method Schools, with its team of distance learning experts, has committed to driving advanced learning outcomes for years.

Ready to start learning with Method Schools? Contact our enrollment specialists today and join our learning community.

A bit stumped about online school? We’ve got you covered. Here’s your guide on what to expect. Get Our Free Guide >>

Mark Holley
Mark Holley
Mark is the co-founder of Method Schools and SmartFox and has been working in the marketing and finance areas of K-12 education for two decades. He holds a B.S. in Business from Utah Valley University and an MBA from Brigham Young University. In his spare time he’s usually on his mountain bike.
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