Old School, New School: Online, At-home and Other Alternatives

By Mike Rothschild

Halstrom 1


With hundreds of public, private and charter schools in Los Angeles, parents have plenty of educational options for their children. Still, some families look for even greater flexibility through nontraditional schooling – from homeschooling to small independent schools to online schools that have no campus.

Why choose an option that often requires greater hands-on involvement and financial commitment than what’s available through traditional schools? And how do you know if one is right for your family?

A Homeschooling Comeback

While deeply ingrained in the fabric of American education, the traditional public school is actually a fairly recent innovation. It wasn’t until 1918 that every state required all children to attend public or private schools. Before that, most kids were educated at home.

For a time, traditional schooling became the norm, with only a few families continuing to homeschool for religious reasons. But that is no longer the case. In the 2011-12 school year, the U.S. Department of Education estimates that around 3.4 percent of school-age students were educated at home, and that number has doubled since 1999.

Halstrom 2“Families homeschool for so many different reasons, but in California, I believe the single most popular reason is dissatisfaction with schools,” says Pam Tellew, assistant coordinator of the Adventures in Homeschooling Conference, a statewide gathering of homeschoolers and their families taking place July 31-Aug. 1 in Santa Clara.

Diane Keith Flynn, homeschooling coach and editor of the online homeschooling resource journal homefires.com, says reasons for parents’ dissatisfaction include “bullying, lack of individualized attention, too much emphasis on testing versus learning, chaos in the classroom and ineffective and/or non-responsive teachers.”

The perception that homeschooling families are either very religious or politically radical just isn’t true, according to Tellew. Often, families homeschool because they find that it is just a good fit. “Some people pull kids out of school because of bad experiences,” she says, “but there are many, like our family, who decide before their children are school aged that homeschooling is the educational option that makes the most sense.”

Time and Money

Parents who choose to pursue an alternative education for their child face research, and a commitment of time and finances. Homeschooling is a time-consuming endeavor that leaves little time for the teacher-parent to work outside the home. Choosing an alternative school might mean driving a child to and from a campus a significant distance from home. And the one-on-one nature of their classes can require numerous meetings between teachers and parents, as well as a great deal of help with classwork.

The cost of attending an alternative school can be comparable to the average tuition at private schools, which can be anywhere from $10,000 to $30,000 per year.

Halstrom 3Homeschooling and Flexibility

For the homeschooled student, the educational experience can be as flexible as necessary while still conforming to state-mandated educational standards. It can bend to the interests and talents of the child, not the needs of a classroom full of kids. This can be a great asset to students with special needs or those with learning styles that aren’t well served in a traditional classroom.

“We see many children who are advanced or gifted and/or who have some kind of learning difference or special need,” says Flynn. “We also see parents who prefer the liberated lifestyle that homeschooling allows – including setting your own daily routine and pace, having the time to collaborate with the kids on learning activities that are fun and challenging, finding mentors and resources in the local community and beyond that enhance learning and speak to the interests, needs and abilities of any given child.”

“In addition,” says Tellew, “homeschoolers can learn at their own pace, without having to worry about keeping up with or being held back by the rest of the class.”

Though they’re educated at home, homeschooled students are able to participate in the extracurricular activities that traditionally schooled students benefit from. They can join public-school sports teams, take community classes or join homeschool-specific sports leagues. Incidentally, homeschooling can be an attractive option for young athletes, Olympic hopefuls or actors – students whose schedules don’t allow for a traditional school day.

Legal Requirements

With homeschooling inching its way into the mainstream, many colleges even offer homeschool-specific admissions procedures. But parents who might be interested in exploring homeschooling should know that teaching at home is not as easy as simply pulling their child out of school.

In fact, homeschooling in California is a complicated process with numerous legal requirements. For one, homeschooling is allowed only under a private-school exemption – meaning the student is not attending public school because they’ve made arrangements to attend a private one. “There is no legal homeschooling,” Tellew explains, “only students attending private schools, which can be in private homes or through charter or umbrella schools through which parents work with teachers, or through school district home-study programs.”

Homeschooled students must be educated in a number of different subjects and be taught with qualified materials, and parents must keep records of attendance and grades and submit them to the local school district. Additionally, public schools aren’t legally required to accept credits conferred on a student by a parent-teacher – so homeschooling and then returning a child to public school can set a child back in his or her education

Alternatives and Virtual Campuses

Parents who want an alternative to public school but don’t want to deal with the legal requirements of homeschooling might want to consider online options or enrolling their children in an alternative school.

Los Angeles County has a wide range of reputable and accomplished alternative schools. They focus on small classes, so students have plenty of individual attention from teachers. They also have flexible schedules, emphasize new technology and sustainability, and allow students to learn at their own pace while being educated by professionals.

Halstrom 4One of these is Halstrom Academy, a private middle and high school with 10 campuses in California, as well as an online school. Halstrom takes a personalized approach to teaching, emphasizing one-on-one interaction between teachers and students and allowing classes to be customized to the needs and strengths of the student.

“Halstrom’s one-on-one teaching is designed around the concept of content mastery,” says Halstrom spokesperson Erin Grant. “This means students are required to master the content of each lesson before progressing to the next. Students learn to work independently, and develop the self-discipline and personal accountability that will help them succeed in college and in their professional lives.”

Another school offering an alternative to large classes is MUSE in Calabasas, a smaller school that offers “narratives” in place of grades. In the MUSE curriculum, students are interviewed about their goals and passions for the year, and an individual learning plan is created for each. Plans are infused with required academics while also staying true to each child’s goals and passions.

Halstrom 5Students who might not have access to one of these campuses can explore an online-only option such as iQ Academy Los Angeles, a public charter school that teaches all grades from kindergarten through high school. The academy, which is accredited by Rowland Unified School District, uses the mastery model of many alternative schools, combining online classes with printed materials to create an individualized experience that caters to the needs and strengths of students.

While this kind of one-on-one approach doesn’t work for every student, many benefit from it greatly.

“Lessons are never boring or dreaded because when a student walks into class, they know they will be engaged and have the teacher’s undivided attention,” says the parent of a Halstrom student. “At Halstrom, a student never comes away believing they are weak in a particular subject.”

Halstrom has sent numerous students to prestigious colleges and offers counseling for the college application process, while iQ Academy offers classes approved by the College Board for Advanced Placement status.

This is just a small sample of the alternatives to traditional school that are available to parents and students in the Los Angeles area. There are also plenty of helpful organizations and websites that you can explore as you look for just the right learning fit for your child.

Resources For Alternative Schools and Homeschooling

You can find information on the schools mentioned in this article here:

Other resources include:


Mike Rothschild is a Pasadena-based writer, and brand-new dad.

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  1. I would like to know if there are opportunities for semi-retired teachers to help home schooling parents, or a need to teach creative writing classes?

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