“Online school” has a bad reputation due to the emergency rollout of virtual learning during the COVID pandemic. However, for some families, the pandemic provided a window into the possibilities of learning from home.
Edutopia wrote an article called “Why Are Some Kids Thriving During Remote Learning?” where teachers describe how virtual learning helped students avoid distractions, customize learning to their interests, and reduce anxiety levels. English teacher Ashlee Tripp said kids do well in this environment because “they enjoy the freedom to work at their own pace and decide how they want their day to look.”
So now, three years after the onset of the pandemic, where are those kids who discovered they thrive in online learning? Getting a quality education from home has gotten easier since then with a boom of online curriculum, programs, and schools.
Maybe you’re considering pulling your child out of school for the first time. If so, we recommend checking out our guide to the difference between homeschooling and online school to help you decide which approach to at-home learning makes sense for your family.
Or, maybe your child is currently enrolled in an online school and the experience isn’t engaging and motivating them. If so, read on!
Of course, we at Prisma believe we’ve created the world’s most engaging online school—and we have the data to back it up. When we survey our hundreds of parents, 98% say their child is happier at Prisma than their last school, 100% say they are happy with their child’s teacher, and 96% say they are confident our curriculum is preparing their child for the future. Or, in the words of one of our five-star Niche reviews:
“Our son has thrived at Prisma in a way he never has at other schools. Beyond academics he is developing leadership skills, time management, independent thinking and collaborative problem solving. Since starting Prisma our son has come to the dinner table excited to share what he is working on. The staff care about the kids and get to know them. We have been impressed with how attentive they have been to the learners.”
Searching for an online school is similar to searching for an in-person school in some respects. Of course, your most obvious enrollment option is the free public school down the street, and for many families, this option is the best one.
But like the in-person public school in your school district isn’t the best fit for everyone, free online public schools aren’t either. Just like families may seek out in-person private schools for offerings public schools don’t provide (cutting-edge curriculum, advanced academics, increased support, or extracurriculars), families who enroll in virtual private schools are looking for something different.
Some people assume since virtual schools don’t pay for facilities, tuition will be cheaper than brick and mortar schools. However, the most expensive component of any school model by far is staff! In general, the higher a program’s cost, the more educator support you should expect your child to receive. It’s important to ask any private school for their teacher:student ratio (ours is 1:14) and how often teachers support students individually (at Prisma, learners regularly meet 1:1 with their learning coach, and receive daily feedback & live instruction).
Online public or charter schools are funded by the government, so they theoretically should offer the same level of teacher support as in-person public school. In reality, most online public schools have a teacher:student ratio more than double than in-person school. Many ask parents to take on the “learning coach” role—which, for little or no tuition cost, is a fair option.
And if an online learning provider has a very low cost, you are likely paying for self-paced courses with little, if any, staff interaction with your child. This approach can work for families who need a flexible schedule or who only want to do online classes temporarily or part-time.
Like in-person private schools, actual tuition costs don’t always match the sticker price. Many online private schools, like Prisma, offer need-based scholarships. In America, we’re currently experiencing a boom in school choice legislation allowing families to spend government funds on education costs, usually in the form of ESAs or vouchers. You can read more about options in your state here.
Here’s a starting list of the best online private middle schools. These schools vary in their approach, structure, and costs, but all are reputable. Which school is right for your family depends on your budget and your learner’s unique needs!
Prisma is the world's most engaging online middle school. Our program offers a comprehensive, full-time, accredited alternative for families who feel constrained or let down by traditional in-person education. What sets Prisma apart is our personalized, project based curriculum; all-star learning coaches (we receive 500 applicants for any one coach we hire); and uncommonly friendly learner social community.
Avenues Online is the virtual campus of Avenues: The World School, one of the most prestigious international private schools in the world. In their Upper Division program, “Avenues students from around the world explore complex topics connected to global issues and practice skills to become changemakers for the future.”
Pearson, of textbook industry fame, has an accredited online school! This program has existed longer than other options springing up in the wave of innovative online schools during the pandemic, which makes it trustworthy in the eyes of many.
Laurel Springs, one of the largest and most popular online schools, prioritizes online education’s ability to offer a more flexible experience than traditional schooling. In their middle school program, they focus on “building personal scholarship and self-esteem during this transformative time.”
One reason many families seek out online learning is because their gifted child wants to learn at an accelerated pace. Where better than on a virtual campus associated with one of the best universities in the world? Stanford Online High School is well-known in the gifted education space, and their middle school program is smaller, but equally rigorous.
Some families looking for an online school are searching for more community and curriculum support, but don’t necessarily want to give up the choice and creativity of interest-driven homeschooling or unschooling. Kubrio isn’t a “school” as you would traditionally conceptualize. Instead, they offer micro-courses and clubs in fun topics like Artificial Intelligence and Music Production.
Of course, we’ve barely scratched the surface of all the private online schools available. What’s the best online school for your family is a question of priorities: Would you rather have lots of individualized support from teachers, or lower tuition costs? Do you want a traditional approach to academics, or something a little more innovative? What’s most important for your child: schedule flexibility or lots of interactive experiences with peers and teachers? You know your family best!
We’re fans of online learning, but it depends how it’s done. Here’s some pros and cons of different kinds of online homeschooling resources to consider, plus links to a variety of options.
Unit studies blend multiple subjects together to create real-world, interest-driven learning experiences. Steal the approach our curriculum experts use to create themes with a free downloadable unit study planner.
“The curriculum at Prisma allows learners to learn about their strengths and use their passions in an organic and interdisciplinary way. The kids have the freedom to choose by having differentiated projects, quests, enrichments, and clubs.”
You might be hearing from friends, extended family, and random strangers in the doctor’s office “there’s no way your kid will be able to get into a good college as a homeschooler.” Impolite, yes. True? Let’s figure it out.
“The amount of support and check-ins our learners have at Prisma is unparalleled compared to anywhere else I’ve ever worked.”
Each of the most popular homeschool styles has existed for a long time, and each has diehard evangelizers and fervent critics. From classical to unit studies to unschooling, this guide will help you find the form best suited to your family.
“What most drew me to Prisma was the chance to work with a fully project-based curriculum custom-designed for middle schoolers who are hungry for academic engagement.”
David Waitzer is the Founding Learning Coach for our first cohort in East Asia & Oceania. In this post, he describes how his background teaching and leading for innovative international education companies will help him accelerate the growth of Prisma learners.
Prisma has hundreds of learners across the Western Hemisphere. Along the way, we've gotten requests to launch cohorts in new time zones from families around the world who want to be part of what we’re building. Next up is East Asia & Oceania!
Middle School Curriculum Designer Lizzie uses her diverse experiences: studying Literature at Harvard, leading outdoor adventure expeditions, and teaching high school English, to help Prisma learners find their voices.
The pandemic has made homeschooling easier than ever before with a boom of online options from curriculum, to part-time programs, to full-time schools. But which is best for your family?
Prisma High School’s Launchpad Program will prepare learners to tackle their next phase, be it college, training, or an exciting career. Trevor Baker, our LaunchPad program designer, describes how he sets learners up for success.
You might have to jump in at first. But eventually, with the right modeling and practice, kids can develop the skills to make thoughtful decisions.
Middle School Curriculum Designer Gabe, an expert in interdisciplinary learning with a PhD from the University of Michigan, explains how he designs themes that blend together STEM and literacy.
One of the most fun parts of being a homeschooling parent is creating fun learning experiences for your kiddos! In this post, we share our favorite at-home activities and online resources.
Our Head of Middle School Curriculum explains how her team blends core subjects and real-world topics to design “hard fun” cycle themes.
One of the reasons our team wanted to develop a new kind of school was because we felt traditional schooling doesn’t put enough emphasis on developing emotionally intelligent kids. But what is emotional intelligence and how do you develop it?
"Carolyn is a miracle worker in math. Piper's attitude towards math has improved so much this year. It's never been her favorite subject but Carolyn's patience and encouragement has made such a positive impact." -Alexia A., Prisma parent
Media literacy is touted as one of the most important “21st century skills” for kids to master, in line with creativity, communication, and grit. Thinking through the amount of time most of us spend interacting with some form of media each day makes a good case for this.
“Lauren is fantastic and has struck a nice balance of connecting with Cooper and keeping him on task. I'm impressed to see real growth in Cooper around self awareness, reflecting on his “glows and grows,” and goal setting.” -Kym J., Prisma parent
“I've seen growth in my kids, and most importantly a solid relationship between them and their coaches. We feel so grateful for these amazing humans that have entered our kids' lives. My kids' words exactly: ‘These teachers actually want to be here. They really care!’ ” -Katie M., Parent in Kimberly’s Cohort
By introducing these concepts at home, you're setting your child up to be more financially responsible and savvy, giving them the tools to navigate an increasingly complex financial world.
“I’m so happy to have an opportunity to call out Javi. As a math educator myself I am really impressed with how he presents math concepts, differentiates for and challenges learners as needed. From a social-emotional perspective he is so kind, patient and invested in the kids as a whole. I am so happy he is Brynn’s math coach.” -Chandra S., Prisma parent
The ability to tolerate frustration is not merely about weathering the storm of the moment, but about instilling the persistence, adaptability, and resilience that set your child up for future success.
“We are eternally grateful for Prisma and the wonderful people who work there - especially the coaches - whose patience and expertise make our kids feel seen and heard and loved while also coaching them to learn knowledge and skills.” -Ashley S., Parent in Angie’s cohort