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What is a hybrid school anyway?

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By Linda Jacobson

The disadvantages of hybrid learning

Blended or hybrid schools also present some challenges. Transportation is one. Riverside Virtual School, for example, serves students from inside and outside the district, so some parents need to make arrangements to get them there.

While schools such as SF Flex Academy do expect students to attend school everyday, Haglund stresses that his school is not intended for families who think they can leave their children at home unsupervised to do their school work. His school expects students to have someone at home, even if it is a grandparent or another adult.

“It’s not independent study,” van Haaster advises other parents. “You do need to participate. You can’t just toss them out there and say ‘here you go.’”

Blended or hybrid schools might also not provide the same extracurricular or athletic opportunities as traditional schools. While SF Flex Academy does have sports teams, students in the Riverside school have to sign up for sports and other activities at other schools, which could further complicate the transportation issues for parents.

A July 2012 report from the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder found that a smaller proportion of students in K12-operated schools — the study didn’t look into ones that just use K12 curriculum — was meeting or exceed state standards in reading and math. Differences were as small as five percent and as great as almost 35 percent.

Is hybrid learning right for my child?

Students can succeed in a blended learning arrangement if they are motivated and able to take some responsibility for their progress.

This combined model might also be appropriate for students who need a little more time on certain subjects and have not been able to get the help they need in a traditional classroom. Haglund notes that students who were too shy to ask questions in a typical classroom can thrive in blended learning because they feel more freedom to interact with the teacher.

What might be unexpected, he adds, is that high-achieving students do not always adjust well to this approach.

“For years, these kids have learned that they can walk into a room, answer the questions and don’t really have to think about it. They weren’t really processing any information,” he said. In an online class, “every single kid has to answer every single question.”

While online learning can meet some students’ needs for credit recovery in high school, parents may not see the kind of academic gains they are expecting if the student completes most of his or her work remotely. These students are more successful, Hagland adds, when most of their online study is conducted in a lab under the supervision of an instructor.

Van Haaster says he has been very pleased that the experience has taught his sons how to be responsible and budget their time.

“These kids are going to be extremely prepared to go into college and manage their schedule and manage their communication with their professor,” he says, although cautioning parents to be patient. “It doesn’t happen overnight.”

A final word of advice

There is no way to know if a school is right for your child until you visit it. So make sure to schedule a tour of any school you are considering. Be sure, too, with hybrid schools to do your research so you feel confident that a program has a good track record and will meet your child's specific needs — socially, academically, and emotionally.

Linda Jacobson is a freelance education writer who lives in Southern California.