An Authentic Dawn for Online Private Schooling
About three years ago, the press accorded some modest coverage to a new initiative that cantered out of the Stanford academic stables with little fanfare – the Stanford Online High School (OHS)The OHS was an offspring of sorts to Stanford’s EPGY program that had hitherto gained credibility and substantial following as an enabler of academic achievement (of both first and last resort) amongst parents and students who steadfastly viewed academic achievement as the cornerstone of a successful K-12 education experience. EPGY’s most defining attribute is that instruction and delivery is wholly online, thus rendering meaningless geographic and any other boundaries thrust upon parents by the traditional schooling system. The OHS represented the first attempt to integrate EPGY’s disparate but exhaustive ala carte offerings into a comprehensive course stack that easily cleared the bar in terms of meeting the curricular (and all other) requirements of an accredited online high school.
Three years on, it is clear that the OHS has inexorably moved forward from its understandably experimental launch to attain maturity and robustness as one of the world’s most compelling offerings for online high school education. OHS has expanded to add grades seven and eight this year with a view to catering to middle schoolers which is where “student frustration often begins” with mediocre teaching and curriculum in traditional schools. As with any compelling product, OHS has an ideological core that is uncomplicated and unambiguous; in this case it happens to be something that eludes most of the civilized world’s hapless traditional schools – academic achievement.
SmartBean has gained added insight by virtue of the fact that some members of our team happen to be demanding OHS parents who took a considered plunge into these alternative education waters this year.
The essence of OHS is that it is intended to be a complete alternative private school in every sense with two exceptions to the norm. First, instruction and instructor contact are online through a combination of audio, video and narrative. Second, non-academic ingredients of the school (the most obvious one being physical education) have to be supplemented by the students’ own best efforts and corroborated. The OHS, as befits an online school, manages every aspect of its administration ranging from orientation, registration, facilitation and on-going counseling online. They also arrange for student social events and “clubs” to operate (quite successfully) online. This is punctuated with alacrity and precision by phone calls and other traditional communication modes whenever and wherever required.
The OHS has a formidable team of highly qualified administrators who are adept at helping both the experienced and uninitiated parent/child navigate OHS waters from the outset. What sustains the ideological core and makes this a seemingly winning proposition for academically motivated children is the breadth and depth of the curriculum to the accompaniment of instructors of unusual pedigree. Their tenets on flexibility and inclusiveness are reflected in their willingness to work with students and schools to be a viable part-time option for some students, and a declared policy of financial assistance for families that can demonstrate need clearly.
The faculty appears to be drawn from the best in the world; their academic credentials are reflected in graduate and doctoral degrees in their chosen discipline from the very best universities. Their curriculum radiates erudition and vision; the courses have been conceived and designed to inculcate essential skills like communication, critical thinking and argumentation in subjects across the board. The “core sequence” of high school courses bears testimony to this — Democracy, Freedom and the Rule of Law; Critical Reading and Argumentation, History of Science: Great Ideas and Observations (and Great Ideas and Experiments); and Methodology of Science (Biology). In addition to traditional AP courses, the course stack also includes other unique courses such as Chinese and Latin languages, International and Global History, Introduction to Logic, Number Theory, and courses in computer science, among others. Students who accelerate may choose to complete early or continue with college-level courses which count towards college credits. It is one thing to display such a remarkable course catalog, and quite another to have the faculty to do relentless justice to it – OHS does just that.
There is no obfuscation of the simple and inescapable fact that OHS is most suited for children of high academic ability and not insignificant self-motivation.
Truly successful educational institutions have historically convinced parents to embark on a specific and singular leap of faith – giving intellectual custody of their children to the institution. OHS may well aspire for providing such conviction to one of the most marginalized constituencies in a changing world – the K-12 parent.
Some practical tips for a parent
- Budget for OHS carefully; its not outrageously expensive but its not inexpensive either in absolute terms. If you plan to apply for financial aid get a head start.
- The admissions application form is not trivial. Give yourself, and more importantly your child enough time to do a thorough job of it.
- A student may opt for full-time or part-time registration. Students who opt for part-time registration have to orchestrate OHS and regular school commitments carefully; its best to involve both the school and OHS in a discussion on this as soon as admission is confirmed.
- Some of the textbooks are expensive; get creative about finding used versions and/or borrowing them from libraries.
- Engage actively with the administrative team; they are very accessible, responsive and a source of genuine counsel on everything ranging from course selection to general counseling.
- Inculcate the spirit of open and regular email communication in your child – it will yield high dividends.
- Prepare your child for a peer group that may be the best your child has ever known.