Education in 2013 looks a lot different than it did a generation ago, or even a decade ago. Today, students can learn at home, at public, charter or private schools, or even attend school online at a cyber school. And if one of those options doesn't entirely meet a student's needs, he may be able to combine the best of all worlds: Many schools offer a combination of these options.
If You Build It
The definition of a public school has changed dramatically since the turn of the century. Today, any school that is funded with federal money is considered a public school -- and that includes many cyber and charter schools. Still, the majority of public schools -- including most charter schools -- are traditional, brick-and-mortar buildings where students attend, interact with their peers and learn from a teacher in person. Most cyber schools, on the other hand, do not have a dedicated building in which teachers and students can meet, although they may have buildings for administrative purposes or for special events such as parent meetings and orientations.
Follow the Money
All public schools and most cyber schools receive their funds from the government -- but not all. Cyber schools that teach religion cannot legally receive federal funds. Students who want to attend a cyber school may choose between free, federally-funded cyber schools, or they may choose to pay tuition to attend a religious online school. Some brick-and-mortar religious schools, particularly Christian schools, offer a partial or full cyber school option, such as the prestigious Oaks Christian School in California, which offers full-time or part-time classes to its students. Still, free public cyber school is by far the most popular, with 30 states offering cyber school options to their students, according to Judy Woodruff in a 2012 PBS article titled "Online Public Schools Gain Popularity, but Quality Questions Persist."
A Matter of Time
Traditional public schools are regimented -- bells move the students along. Time constraints are set into place out of necessity, but for some students, this hinders, not helps, the learning process. For others, however, it keeps them on task -- as does the watchful eye of the teacher and peers. Cyber schools are more flexible. With the exception of timed exams, most courses can be taken and completed at the student's discretion. This means that the student must learn how to effectively manage his or her time. And although the cyber teacher will still be monitoring the student's progress, the teacher will not be hovering over the students as they work, so parental involvement in cyber school lessons is sometimes key for students who have a hard time getting motivated.
Friends are Friends Forever
For most teenagers, friendships are key -- and that can make or break an education. In the case of negative peer pressure or bullying, a cyber school can be a welcome alternative to the challenges of life at a brick-and-mortar public school. But escape from negative social interaction also means isolation from the positive aspects of friendships. Although most cyber schools allow you to interact with one another using chat tools, videos and forums, such interactions can't replace face-to-face relationships. For this reason, many cyber schools host small, local get-together events and field trips.