Niche Resources

Online Grade School: Here’s What to Know

Online college is one thing, but how could online school work for elementary, middle, and high school kids, who we traditionally assume should be inside a school building five days a week?

At first glance, the idea of online grade schools may seem confusing, and bring up a range of questions. Primarily, how do they compare to a more traditional school setting? Here we’ll look at common questions about online schools and help demystify the structure, benefits, and reasons for choosing an online grade school for your child.

Why Do Parents Choose Online Grade Schools?

Above all, online grade schools provide a range of flexibility that brick-and-mortar naturally cannot offer. Though there are countless, more complex reasons from family to family, parents often choose online grade schools for one of the following reasons:

  • For easier accessibility to online teachers for collaboration and personalized feedback
  • To supplement to a traditional school day or enhancement of certain concentrations
  • Because the student thrives in an environment with a tailored time structure, removing the pressure of class periods
  • Because of health restrictions that make the in-person school day challenging for certain learners
  • For better control over workspace and levels of distraction
  • Because their child is a performing arts professional or full-time athlete requiring a non-traditional learning schedule
  • For versatility in daily structure for outdoor time, travel, and learning hours
  • To build learning independence and pride in educational passions


J.J. Lewis, Superintendent and CEO of Compass Charter Schools in California, echoes the vast opportunities for each student throughout online learning. “The greatest benefit of choosing an online educational path is the flexibility and support it provides both the scholar and their family. There are so many unique situations in the family today and having an educational opportunity that is available to all, no matter the location, schedule, situation is important. This type of learning environment ensures access to a quality education, with support from a dedicated team.”

How do online students learn?

All accredited online schools — whether they be private, public or charter — earn their accreditation by covering the required core lessons and concepts that traditional schools follow. Some public schools even offer their own direct online program reflective of their physical classrooms, but with a flexible schedule.

A common misconception about online schools is that students will feel separated from or passive about their school experience. Heather Noto, Principal at Arizona Connections Academy, debunks this. “Teachers and administrators who choose to work in an online environment find themselves building high-quality relationships with students and families,” she explains. “[Arizona Connections Academy] teachers speak regularly with their students by phone and this one-on-one attention allows them to get to know their students and their families, which ensures they are more able to personalize their instructional approaches.”

The number of K-12 students in the U.S. enrolled in online school

What is the daily structure of online schooling?

Though each online school offers varying programs and formats, many offer balance between independent study and online virtual classrooms. Compass Charter Schools, for example, offer live classroom lectures called learning labs to engage students in discussion and demonstration. Programs expect anywhere from 2-4 hours of engagement a day depending on their grade levels.

Throughout the country, online tools like Moodle and Blackboard allow students to complete assessments, submit assignments on a deadline, and join in on group discussions. Parents, guardians or tutors assist in keeping students on track and in communication with their online teachers.

Are parent teachers or tutors required at home?

The support of an in-person tutor or parent is crucial to the balance of online class interaction and independent study. For many programs, online teachers constantly work in tandem with the student’s direct learning coach to tailor their individual curriculum. Compass Charter’s Director of Online Learning, Erin Smith, notes, “Our teachers work with the Learning Coach to create a truly personalized learning experience along with academic instruction and support to enhance scholars’ achievement, one scholar at a time.”

Curriculum benchmarks are incredibly similar to those of a traditional school setting, teaching and assessing all developmental skills before transitioning to the next lesson. The timing of grade advancement can be tailored to each family’s schedule, but often moves at an accelerated pace, allowing students to move ahead or catch up at the speed the need for their needs.

How do online students socialize?

Many online schools, depending on the family’s arrangement, offer supplementary social outings, in-person science labs and field trips to balance the independent atmosphere of remote learning. The Community for Accredited Online Schools suggests checking with your local YMCA for additional community-building programs outside of local schools.

Some parents even choose online learning for the well-rounded balance between personal development and social growth both in the community and with their own families. Jennifer Brodhag, Director of Parent Education and Engagement at PA Virtual Charter School, expands on this. “Online school tends to be a more efficient use of time during the school day. This allows students the ability to focus on interests, review concepts where they may be struggling, participate in service learning, spend time developing relationships with immediate and extended family members, and explore a particular sport or fine art or visual art interest.”

Is online school the same as homeschooling?

Though the draw of online grade school and homeschooling are often similar, online school structure differs quite a bit. In a homeschool setting, parents take on the roles of a teacher, creating lesson plans and curriculum and spending all facilitation time one-on-one with their child. The parents manage grading, assessment and meeting educational benchmarks.

Online grade schools involve guardians in the learning process as a direct mentor, but they do not facilitate or grade instruction. Each program ensures that the teachers come with specific online teaching training to engage and excite students about their ongoing learning path. Online grade school teachers are also experienced in developing each student’s strengths, encouraging them to dive more deeply in one subject with instant resources at the ready.

How do I choose the best online school for my student?

Many public-school districts now offer online variations of their own curriculum for free, as well as charter school programs from the region. If you’re seeking a free program in your area, speak with your district about their offerings and school day structure.

Private online schools vary in the same manner as brick-and-mortar schools. When searching through private online grade schools, it’s crucial to peruse their ranking, statistics and accreditations. Research for an online school should be just as detailed and tailored to your child as any school search. In addition to traditional questions, speak with the school’s administrators about your particular draw to online schools, your child’s approach to learning, and your lifestyle and schedule.

The Bottom Line

Online grade schools provide a balance between home education and a traditional school structure, even for young children. Whether families have a complex life and work schedule or simply seek a different educational path for their student, these programs can be tailored to a range of needs. When choosing the best program for you, be sure to dive into online grade school rankings, curriculum details and first-hand reviews of student and family experience with the program.

Find great online schools here

Author: Ginny Bartolone

Ginny is a freelance writer and actress based in Montclair, NJ. She regularly contributes to a range of wedding, lifestyle and spirituality websites, as well as in her own blog, She is also currently completing a book about her two hikes across Spain.