My post about Acellus continues to get the most hits on this blog consistently. I want to say a few things about it.
This is an extraordinary time that may call for unusual solutions.
First, I wrote that post as I was frustrated with trends in homeschooling way back at the start of the year. Little did I know that the homeschool landscape was about to radically change. There are now a LOT more people engaged in home learning. There are a lot more families doing this who simply did not want to be. One of my premises in that post was that unless your child was in an unsafe situation at school or had another unusual circumstance, you’d be better off leaving them in school than using these inexpensive online programs. Well, surprise! In person school is now an unsafe situation for nearly everyone in the United States, at least for now.
With that in mind, I want to emphasize that for anyone who is stuck doing this, no choice about curriculum that you make is going to “ruin” your kid or your kid’s education. And especially, I want to emphasize that if you need to use a basic computer learning system to get through a single year, then please do it. In my original post, I talked about circumstances where it made sense to use these sorts of programs in the short term, such as a mental health crisis or a student with an outside job. Well, add the pandemic to that list.
Acellus is still the worst of the bunch.
However, if I was going to pick an online program for you, I would still strongly recommend against Acellus specifically.
They aren’t the only bad player out there. In fact, several of the Christian specific programs are just as bad if not worse. However, since that’s where my hate mail seems to come from and since that’s what’s churning up dislike of me, I’ll just keep singling them out.
A lot of US school districts chose Acellus as their virtual platform to use during the pandemic for the 20-21 school year. And very quickly, one state dumped it.
You can read the summary of what happened in Hawaiian schools here or here. The tl;dr is that parents quickly took screenshots of eye raising content they witnessed in Acellus. That included racist content, sexual innuendo in an early elementary video, and a teacher showing off a gun to a class.
They also started looking much more closely at the founder of Acellus. According to the articles I linked above, Roger Billings “doctorate” was awarded by an institution he founded and there have been allegations for years that he leads a cult. He also has tweeted some disturbing things, such as that everyone who has died of Covid “would have died anyway.” The articles linked above also link to more sources, including Twitter screenshots of some of his acolytes and more of his now removed Tweets, all of which have a very strong political bent that goes outside the mainstream. This is not a man qualified to create curriculum for children.
Several districts in Hawaii have already dumped the program, less than a month into the school year.
As I wrote in my last post, I’m very concerned about corporate influence in education right now. It’s across the board, in homeschool and public school arenas. Acellus is one really blatantly bad example. But I’m also unimpressed by everything I’ve seen from companies like Edmentum and Pearson. None of these are great systems for kids to truly learn. I’ll say it again. Education is slow and labor intensive and requires a human connection.
Some people complained I didn’t give advice.
Look, I can’t tell you what the right solution is for you if you need to homeschool suddenly. I strongly believe in personalized solutions in homeschooling. One size does not fit all in education at any level. I have literally built a business founded on that idea. There are programs that I might offhandedly call “meh, light” or “way too overplanned” or “weird book choices” that, when I meet the right person I have to say “perfect fit for your student struggling with that subject” or “this will lay it out for you step by step like you like” or “oh, I’ve got the perfect book based program for a kid with those unusual interests!”
If you want to know what I used, it is literally all over this blog. The “Our Curriculum” tab on the blog links to posts that tell you what I used with my own kids from K-7th grade. Those won’t necessarily be right for you or your kids either! But they were things we mostly liked. And there are lots of new programs available now. When we started out, Acellus didn’t even really exist as an option, but neither did rich book based secular programs like Build Your Library or Blossom and Root. The whole marketplace is different now.
If you have a K-2nd or 3rd grader, I beg you to try and keep them off the computer for at least a chunk of their learning day. Little hands need small motor practice that they won’t get there. Little brains need less screen time. If you have a kid who is older, I would also say that there are lots of options for paper based curricula that you can use. Online is not the only solution. Try to accomplish math, reading, and writing. Everything else is icing on the cake.
However, if I had to hold my nose and recommend an all-in-one inexpensive online program for you… I’ll suggest Time 4 Learning. I named them in my original post and I’ll stand by the idea that I don’t think any all computer based program can really be the best choice in normal times. But I’ve known a lot of people who have used Time 4 Learning to start out, to tide over, or to get through something. Most people I’ve known move on from it after a year or so, but some stay with it and supplement and enrich, making it just one component, which would be the ideal way to use any online learning system. They have extra modules for English that include reading actual books. I’ve never heard anything really negative about the content in the vein of the examples of racism and downright cringeworthy questions that I posted above about Acellus.
I’ll also recommend seeking out individual teacher-led classes online, especially for older students. If you’d like to just try this method of learning out, there are inexpensive options on Outschool. However, there are much more complete, challenging courses out there as well.
My last word about this is that I one of the best books I’ve read exploring the ideas involved in online education is Sal Khan’s The One World Schoolhouse. If you are going to stick with online based learning, it’s definitely worth a look. Sal Khan founded Khan Academy. He writes a lot about mastery based education and how online, computer based education can support that. The book is more exploratory when he talks about what to couple with the sort of work a student can do on Khan. But he recognizes the need for interaction, innovation, and hands on exploration for students.