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Choosing a school for kids in grades K-12

Public schools also require licensing for teachers and are held to publicly set standards for academic performance and attendance.

Online public schools

For parents with time to supervise Junior's learning, online public schools offer a way to take some of the best things about public education and combine it with the intensity of home schooling.

Instead of sitting in class, kids work directly with a licensed teacher on their computer, and in workbooks and textbooks. Parents must be available to coach and oversee the learning.

Ron Packard, founder and CEO of K12, a provider of online public school programs, says online schooling is much more efficient than brick-and-mortar schools.

"When you do it one on one, it's very efficient," he says.

The amount of individualized attention varies from one student to another, depending on the learning plans. "Direct, synchronous instruction with a certified teacher for each student ranges between once a week to two or three times a day, depending on the student's needs and learning plan," says Jeffrey Kwitowski, vice president of public relations at K12.

The online public schools are also low-cost. K12 provides everything for students -- including computers, software and, in some cases, a high-speed Internet connection.

The online academies are available to students in 22 states and in Washington, D.C.

Cost: Free to parents. The schools are generally organized as local charter schools, which means that taxpayers foot the bill. But online classes are much less expensive per student than traditional school. In 2008, University of Florida researchers surveyed 20 virtual schools in 14 states and found that the average yearly cost per student was $4,300.

While still in the developing stages, online learning is a growing phenomenon. The International Association for K-12 Online Learning estimates that the field is growing at an annual pace of 30 percent.

Benefit: Students work one-on-one with their teachers and the lessons move at the pace of the student. Further, kids get to skip some of the less pleasant socializing that can go on in schools -- bullying, drugs and cliques.

"We call that avoiding negative socialization," says Packard.

"Particularly in middle school when the hormones start kicking in and kids start getting into trouble, a lot of times parents say, 'I'm going to do this through middle school and then put them back into a brick-and-mortar high school,'" he says.

Home schooling

Home schooling can be an inexpensive, though labor-intensive, option for parents who want to undertake it.

Parents' reasons for home schooling their children vary, but with commitment and effort, it can pay off for students.

"I've met some (home-schooled students) in the past five years who have gone to college at highly reputed colleges, Harvard being one of them," says Kendrick.

Home schooling doesn't mean your kid has to miss football or being a cheerleader, either. Students who are home-schooled can still participate in extracurricular activities through local schools in most areas.

Cost: Brian D. Ray, editor of Home School Researcher, conducted a 1997 study titled "Home Education Across the United States," which found that the average amount spent by parents on home schooling was $546 per year.

Depending on how parents get their curricula, for instance borrowing from the library or buying packages from providers, the cost of home schooling can be as low as a couple of hundred dollars to as much as a couple of thousand dollars per year.

"In terms of low-cost, good education, if people are able to do it in terms of their careers and family situation, home schooling is the ultimate low-cost educational option. But it comes with opportunity costs for the parent that has to stay home," says Adam Schaeffer, policy analyst with the Cato Institute's Center for Educational Freedom.

Benefit: Parents have control over how lessons are taught. Plus, there is freedom to travel and continue teaching. Students have the freedom to explore extracurricular activities on a level that might not be possible within a rigid school setting. Children also get to spend more time with family.


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