These K-12 Online Schools Offer Alternatives in 2020

Online school comes in many forms, both private and public. Photo by Julia M Cameron / Pexels
Online school comes in many forms, both private and public. Photo by Julia M Cameron / Pexels
8/2/20 - By Kelley Heyworth

Worried about the safety of in-person school? Concerned about the quality of your school's distance learning plan? A well-established online school may be the answer for some parents on the hunt for school alternatives in fall 2020.

Online schools have long existed to serve kids who need them (due to health issues, extended travel, or athletics or performing arts schedules), but are now poised to serve families who want something different than what their local school is planning for 2020. The following online schools have a track record of providing full-time, comprehensive curriculums for students in grades K through 12, and are currently registering kids who'd learn best in the safety and comfort of their own homes in these uncertain times. Certainly, many carry a price tag that make some of these an option for families of some privilege, but we've also included free online school resources and more moderately priced options, too.

As you weigh your options for school in the fall, check out these CDC guidelines for school openings and our picks for great education workbooks and free online learning resources. Find ongoing online learning and virtual activities for kids on Poppins@Home, too.


First, a quick primer: There are online public schools and online private schools. (We provide a sampling of both here.) Free online public and charter schools typically require that students live in the state or district where the school is located, but some are open to out-of-state kids who pay a fee to attend. Thirty-three states offer free, full-time public online education to the residents in their state. (You can contact your state's Board of Education to see if your state is included, or an organization called National School Choice Week has a helpful list.) Online private schools vary in cost, but most are less expensive than brick-and-mortar private schools and have student bodies that span the globe. When researching online private schools, educational experts recommend parents look for schools that have been accredited by a national or regional educational organization.

Most online schools offer mainly asynchronous learning, in which curriculum is provided through videos, interactive online lessons, and sometimes text-style worksheets (usually in the elementary years), and students work at their own pace. Some schools also offer opportunities for synchronous learning—live virtual classes in which teachers present material and students can interact in real time. Reach out to the individual online school for more details, as many are creating more interactive experiences between teachers and students.


Public and Private, Grades K to 12
Parents doing any research about online school are sure to come across K12, a for-profit company founded in 2000 that runs online public schools in several states as well as two K to 12 private schools, which cater to students around the world. K12 Private Academy offers full-time or individual course enrollment with year-round start dates, and the Keystone School is even more flexible, with maximum choice about curriculum paths, learning pace, and teacher interaction. Classes at these private schools are mainly asynchronous, but both afford many opportunities for one-on-one teacher interactions, and K12 Private Academy offers live web classes and virtual field trips.

Connections Academy

Public, Grades K to 12
Connections Academy operates free, online public schools, mainly serving grades K to 12, in 29 states. Students learn from home in mainly asynchronous lessons in a curriculum that can be as light or heavy as parents wish at any given time, but there are also teacher-led "LiveLesson" sessions. Teachers and "Learning Coaches" provide one-on-one support to families in its online school throughout the year.

Laurel Springs School

Private, Grades K to 12
The alma mater of Elijah Wood, Miranda Cosgrove, and the Jenner sisters, Laurel Springs has long been celebrities' online school of choice. Enrollment is rolling, and students can design their own class lineup to suit their needs and availability. Classes are asynchronous but academic coaches are very accessible for providing one-on-one guidance. Students in grade K to 5 have the option of two different learning modalities—online or text-based—and are led through a structured reading and math program as well as science and a choice of a foreign language.

A number of online schools offer live teaching, while others are more go-at-your-own-pace. Photo by Julia M Cameron / Pexels

Calvert Academy

Private, Grades K to 12
Calvert prides itself on a rigorous, traditional academic curriculum, delivered online to kids in grades K to 12. The school works with parents to design individualized schedules and classes for students, and main academic courses are complemented by over 75 elective courses. Classes are mainly asynchronous but teachers also are available in online classrooms for extra help and conferences.

Christa McAuliffe Academy School of Arts and Sciences

Private, Grades K to 12
The curriculum is highly personalized at CMASAS, with students' individual learning styles recognized through a range of visual, auditory, and hands-on assignment options. Elementary students at this online school study four core subjects (language arts, science, social studies, and math) and two elective courses, including art, physical education, foreign languages, coding and computational thinking, and technical literacy. Classes are asynchronous, but a Personalized Education Coach works closely with families via online conferencing and messaging to help kids brainstorm the best way, most interesting way for students to meet requirements.

Oak Meadow

Private, Grades K to 12
Since 1975, Oak Meadow has been providing homeschooled families a Waldorf-style education plan that allows students to explore their passions through experiential learning. Its asynchronous distance learning program, developed more recently, is an extension of that student-led approach. Elementary school students can choose from a variety of online learning courses in math, language arts, social studies, science, art, and music, and meet Oak Meadow's "learning objectives" by showing mastery in many different ways.

Forest Trail Academy

Private, Grades K to 12
Forest Trail's online school offers a comprehensive traditional curriculum in a flexible format that allows students starting in kindergarten to learn at their own pace and on their own time. Specials like music, art, and even sex ed are added starting in Grade 5. Close collaboration between teachers, academic advisers, and families help personalize the asynchronous coursework.

Bridgeway Academy

Private, Grades Pre-K to 12
Every student receives a personalized learning program at Bridgeway Academy, with the help of an academic advisor that considers a child's learning style and schedule and creates an online learning curriculum accordingly. Bridgeway's program officially starts in pre-K, when families can choose between a Bible-based or secular online school curriculum. New this year, students in grades 3 to 5 can opt to add live, teacher-led online classes and a "meet up" session at the end of each week for presentations, virtual field trips, and more.