Homeschool method is deciding between curriculum or distance learning. Another way to look at it is deciding whether to “do it yourself” or to use a school where the student works from home. We say “do it yourself” to mean buying or creating curriculum to use as an independent homeschool. We say “distance learning” to mean enrollment in a school where the student does everything from home.
If you purchase curriculum or even use an online curriculum that is not a school, you are typically an independent homeschool. An independent homeschool is responsible for curriculum selection, record keeping, finding a way to do achievement testing if required, and providing all academic assistance. In a few districts and states, information about the curriculum must be provided to the state’s department of education or local school district on an annual basis. Parents that operate as an independent homeschool usually have less costs, but much more parent duties. Parents can often find academic support and social opportunities, especially for high school, through local homeschool associations.
If your student is enrolled in an online school (not an umbrella school), the school will provide the curriculum, record keeping, and course counseling. Many online schools offer various options for academic support. Many online schools use online curriculum that have built-in daily lesson plans, automatic scoring, and record keeping. The automatic scoring offers instant answer reinforcement for most questions to quickly correct wrong answers from residing in memory. This is a great advantage. Some schools provide in-home achievement tests in their tuition in case it is required by your state. In some situations, enrollment in an online school reduces registration information needed by the state or district.
Distance learning through an online private school will cost more because of included benefits. These school programs have to cover curriculum, accreditation expenses, academic support, testing services, records, and other costs. Online schools will normally offer access to academic help, which is especially beneficial for middle and high school students. Some online schools assist with very time consuming subjective scoring that cannot be scored automatically. Some feel a diploma and transcript from a school is important, thus use an online school. One of their bigger benefits compared to independent homeschooling is student motivation. Sometimes the student needs to know someone else other than parents expects quality and quantity of work to be done. This can help reduce conflict at home.
In regard to umbrella schools, there is a difference between an umbrella school and an online school. An umbrella school may or may not provide the curriculum. One perk of an umbrella school may be a diploma with the school name. In Louisiana, independent homeschools must use an umbrella school within the state even if they are enrolled in an online school outside the state. An umbrella school may or may not provide detailed record-keeping (cumulative folder). An umbrella school will usually not provide academic support. In some cases, umbrella schools are just a curriculum supplier that is called a school or academy. They may even have an accreditation from a lesser known accreditation. In some cases, they do not require students to use a common curriculum, but offer supplementary features or courses. An umbrella school might be an option if you are an independent homeschool, but would like a diploma from a school name, plus any of the other benefits they might offer. An umbrella school can range each year from $100 to about half the cost of typical online schools depending on whether curriculum is supplied.
An “online school” is called “online” not necessarily because the curriculum is entirely online, but because several facets of the school have interaction online. For example, records and grades interaction, attendance, academic tutoring and counseling, testing, etc. An online school is more likely to have a higher level of accreditation (such as a regional accreditation) and offer more services and benefits. Most online schools will use paper or booklet curriculum up to at least 3rd grade.
Homeschool methods can be curriculum-only, curriculum and participation in a local homeschool association, curriculum and an umbrella school, umbrella school that includes curriculum, or an online school with academic support. Per any of these homeschool method choices, there are often options and variations, but these are the major categories.
See 10 Points For Choosing A Program if considering distance learning or an online school. See Homeschool Parent Commitment on this site or Practical Homeschooling if you are not sure of what homeschool method yet.