Tag Archives: acellus

A Follow Up on Acellus

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.


I’m worried about corporate influence in education. You should be too.

I’ve continued to get a few serious hate messages (none posted) from my post about Acellus and other low end homeschool online programs. Once you’ve decided to use the b-word in calling names, you’ve definitely undermined your whole position (and shout out to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s brilliant speech about exactly what’s not okay about that). But let’s put that aside for a moment.

Several people have said to me that this pandemic must be great for my business. I’m an independent educational consultant now. I work with homeschoolers – particular middle and high school parents – on how to homeschool and with students and families trying to get their homeschooled students into college. It’s true that we have had a bump in business. However, what we offer isn’t easy solutions. Our intention was never to work with parents who didn’t want to home educate. I absolutely believe there are lots of ways that home education can work, which is why my business doesn’t have some single system we’re selling. We get to know each client personally then try to tailor our suggestions to their needs. Even if business were booming beyond belief, we help people on an individual level. We have a pretty small limit on the number of clients we can take.

The people who are making huge sums on this are large educational corporations. Those include Edmentum, the company behind Monarch and the new Calvert; Pearson, the company you probably know as an educational textbook publisher; K-12, the company that runs online charter schools in most states; and Acellus, the company behind Power Homeschool, which I singled out previously because of its growing popularity and because they have had some very dirty marketing tactics in the past, including posing as homeschoolers with fake accounts on forums.

These large businesses are getting a larger share of the educational pie than ever this year. I’m concerned by that. I think you should be too.

I’m not saying that some of these companies don’t provide useful products. However, in the end, education is slow and personal. It cannot be downloaded into your child’s brain via computer. It’s also not a product. Education is a process. These corporations treat education as a product. They treat your children as products. In fact, they see your children as money to be made.

When you educate your child at home, you have their best interests at heart as a growing person in need of education. When you send your child to a small, nonprofit, private school, they have a mission statement that guides how they educate your child. They have teachers who are there to care about your child. When you send your child to a public school, you’re sending your child to an institution filled with people who are driven to care for you child’s education, overseen ultimately by the public and your votes. I’ve been involved in all of these at various times. They can all be good models of educating children.

When a corporation educates your child, they care about the money that your child represents. They cut corners whenever they can. Corporations do not have your child’s best interests at heart. Their core mission is always to make money on a large scale.

There will always be people writing books, creating educational software, teaching kids, making enrichment camps, tutoring, and making money in education in various ways. I do that too. But there is a difference between being paid for your teaching, your creative work, or your labor and paying into the profits of a large scale company that does not pay teachers very well. Everyone should be paid for their expertise and labor. But that’s not the same as amassing a fortune and making decisions that are about selling and marketing over quality. That is what Edmentum, Pearson, Acellus, K12, and so forth do.

If you’re in the pandemic, home educating unexpectedly, then you should do whatever you need to do to get through this. If you have a high school student and your easiest path to getting credits is one of these corporate options, they’re cheap and you should do what you need to do. I understand why people feel pressed to look at these options more than ever. These are big questions and forces, bigger than any one person’s individual decisions about their family’s needs. But that doesn’t mean I’m not concerned.

With so many families taking students out of the public system because of the pandemic, I’m very worried about access to schooling that is above and beyond this cheap online model. Both new homeschoolers and school districts are turning to corporations to solve their education problems during the pandemic. Maybe that’s a good stopgap? But what happens if we move so far away from the human-centered, human-delivered, mission-driven model of education and toward a model where money is key? It will exacerbate big gaps in access to quality education between rich and poor, and often along racial lines. Some states are even planning to use pandemic emergency funds to encourage parents to abandon public schools. Many of them are using funds to expand the corporate role in your child’s education.

There are no easy answers for education during a pandemic. However, I don’t think parking American kids in front of low end learning software long term is going to be a good outcome. Maybe it’s better than the alternatives for now. But then what?

Y’all, I meant it. Cheap online learning is crap.

See my previous post. No one is going to sway me by telling me that my children are going to be failures. Can my eyes roll back in my head any farther?

Cheap online programs are not good for your kids, not used alone without other enrichments. And knowing Acellus’s business tactics, I wouldn’t put it past them to be spamming me with their own fake accounts at this point.

Inexpensive online learning used in a vacuum long term does not have positive learning outcomes. Your kids are not learning to be tech geniuses by using any old online program. Graduating early is not a sign of a better education, just a rushed one. Multiple choice education is not any more effective or deep than multiple choice tests. Real education is slow and expensive. And that’s why schools are expensive and good teachers don’t come cheap.

I love that there are more options in home education now. It’s especially key right now with everyone stuck at home. But my greatest fear in this pandemic is that we are robbing our children of quality learning by turning to corporate solutions instead of real ones.

If anyone is genuinely interested in the ways that online learning can be used for mastery and combined with creative, innovative thinking, then I recommend The One World Schoolhouse by Sal Khan, of Khan Academy fame. The ways he envisions using programs like Khan Academy – which, by the way, is free and better quality in many cases than some of these cheap online options you’re paying for – and coupling them with actual applications and deeper thinking tasks and open ended learning – are interesting and hopeful.

Meanwhile, screw you, corporate profiteers trying to take over home education.

Why You Shouldn’t Use Acellus (among others)

Because this post continues to receive a ton of attention, I have written an addendum to it. It’s available here. And if you really want to see the “research” maybe go read the excellently thorough investigative piece at OneZero, the journalist arm of Medium. Below is the original post, unaltered.

Psst… I know I’m not around here very often. Mushroom and BalletBoy are working their way through homeschooling high school with some live online courses, some dual enrollment at a local community college, and some courses at home. I’m busy running things over at Simplify Homeschool. If you need help with homeschooling, especially with planning high school with college acceptance in mind, you can find me there.

My social media and search feeds are bombarded with ads for really bad homeschooling programs and well-meaning homeschoolers recommending those programs. If you’re new to homeschooling, there’s a good chance you’re being bombarded with them too.

Time4Learning, Acellus/Power Homeschool, Mia Academy, Calvert Homeschool, Monarch… and the list goes on. You probably also see ads for K-12, Connections, and other programs typically provided as part of online charter schools. Plus you likely see ads for math and individual learning programs such as Adventure Academy, Elephant Learning, IXL, ABC Mouse, and others.

In the last several years, these programs have come to dominate the homeschool conversation and scene. They promise that for a low monthly fee, you can have everything you need to homeschool or that for a monthly fee they can enrich your homeschool through digital learning.

Let’s look at one of the most popular options, Acellus, which is sold mostly through Power Homeschool. I’ve been around long enough to remember when Acellus was an upstart provider getting banned from multiple homeschool groups for running sock puppet accounts to post fake testimonials about their product. From that beginning, and a lot of money spent on advertising, they have grown to become a huge company, providing credit recovery classes, homeschool “courses,” and other software based education services. They’re a private company, so I can’t say how much they make, but suffice it to say that it’s a great deal.

On the Power Homeschool site, they use the word “complete” to refer to their product in several places. They offer various “reports” such as attendance and progress reports, just like a school would. Under the section on parent responsibilities, it only lists that parents must follow state laws and “supervise” their students. It makes no mention of doing any outside teaching, enriching, or even homework support. Sounds like a complete program, right?


In actuality, Acellus quietly places a disclaimer that it’s meant to be “part” of a program. What’s the rest of the program? There’s no way to tell from their website materials. It’s really up to the parents. However, parents choosing Acellus are typically thinking of it as everything they’re doing for school. Because they aren’t immersed in a homeschool community where parents talk about enriching ways to approach education, they come to think that choosing this self-paced, video-based, multiple choice program, they’ve done their duty.

Most families turning to software based solutions for homeschooling as their primary teaching method would be better off leaving their kids in school.

I do think these online, software-based programs can have uses. Sometimes, you just need to check the box for a subject, especially for a student in high school who is busy with another subject or even a non-academic pursuit. Other times, parents use programs like these to fill in the gaps when someone in the family, either the student or parent suffers from a chronic illness or is going through a rough year, perhaps with a major life change. There are worse ways to deal with that than relegating a year of learning to a computer program. A few families do enrich these programs, though in my experience, they tend to use them briefly then move on in dissatisfaction because they realize how bare bones and boring the programs are.

What is the purpose of homeschooling? Sure, some people turn to it out of a specific need — a child’s physical or mental health issues, a child’s career such as in acting or the arts, a situation with severe bullying. However, typically, it’s to provide a superior education to our kids. The core of these programs is videos plus multiple choice and other very basic questions. That’s it.

Learning happens through interaction. It happens through experience. It happens by testing and trying things out. The idea that a student can learn how to write by choosing the best option for a sentence on a multiple choice quiz is preposterous to me. Many of these programs do offer ways for students to write paragraphs or essays. However, they don’t provide much, if any, feedback. What use is that? Sometimes they do ask students to read books for literature, but there are no opportunities to discuss. The overall emphasis isn’t on reading at all, but on information given in little video chunks. Even for a subject like math, where there usually is a single correct answer, the process of understanding how to get that answer is often too complex to be learned solely through multiple choice questions.

I’m hardly a Luddite and I’m a huge advocate for using screens creatively as well as using live or asynchronous classes with a teacher as part of your homeschool. However, parking a kid in front of a screen without even a human to talk to on the other end for their entire education is soulless, empty, and bereft of meaning. Education is more than a few facts. It’s a process that should be at the heart of a child’s life. Homeschoolers used to talk about raising lifelong learners. These computer programs don’t care about anything other than checking off a box.

They also take away the beautiful flexibility of homeschooling. Why should a kid have to learn American history one year if they’re obsessed with medieval knights? Why should a high school homeschooler emerge with a transcript that looks just like a public school student? Shouldn’t they aim for more individualized work? Of course there are “elective” options on these sites, but they’re often relatively limited. The array of electives on Power Homeschool is fewer than what the large public schools offer here.

I sympathize with parents who are pressed for time and money but want to homeschool. I would ask them, if the education your child will receive through a computer is inferior to the one they’ll receive at school, then is it worth it? Homeschooling takes work. It takes your time and effort. If you don’t have that time or energy, that’s okay! It doesn’t make you a bad parent. If your child really needs out of a bad school situation, then maybe it’s a temporary solution until you find a better one. Maybe that’s another brick and mortar school. Or maybe you seek within yourself and your community and find those reserves to be able to help your student at home with interaction and work that does go above and beyond what these programs offer.

There are some amazing teachers out there teaching online and some great little curricula written by homeschoolers and teachers. Everyone deserves to get paid for their labor. However, the found of Acellus or Time4Learning do not care about your student’s education. They are looking to make a dollar. They have no philosophy beyond simply sales. Money and corporations have become the biggest force in education these days. I see it and weep because it is not helping homeschooled kids receive a better education any more than it helps kids in traditional schools.

In the end, I know these companies are going to continue to prey on homeschoolers. They’re going to continue to make it sound like it takes no effort to homeschool. They’re going to continue selling you snake oil.

I’m going to continue to rage about them, because I hate what they’re doing to a group of people who used to really care about the best way to teach our kids.