For the past few months I've been consumed with starting off the year in homeschooling. We've had 2 years of Calvert, and while I'd read up on reviews of K12 vs Calvert and looked at the K12 site, looked at sample lessons, etc., I was still totally unprepared for the K12 experience. As I type this, the K12 curriculum is being boxed up to return and Calvert is on the way. I wanted to write up a side by side comparison that might be helpful to anybody else trying to make a decision and wondering if there was any real difference between the two programs.

First off, why did we switch in the first place? Because it was convenient. Our local district was set up to use K12 as an at-home option, and not set up to use Calvert. On the surface, they looked very similar. Both are used in most states as an at-home public school option, both use an online school interface, both ship a complete curriculum for the school year covering the core subjects and offer electives like foreign languages, music and art. Both come with lesson plans and are intended for use by the typical homeschooler who is probably not a professional teacher.

There, however, the similarities end.

Calvert lesson plans are very clear and complete. If you are supposed to use certain books, reading certain pages, and completing certain workbook pages, the lesson plan lists it all. There is a wonderful consistency to them, every lesson plan begins with a stated objective, teaches to the objective, assigns work on the objective, and ends with a few checkpoint questions to test whether the objective was reached. If not, you know what your child needs more practice on.

K12 lesson plans may or may not include an objective, may or may not contain clear instructions on what materials to use, and are inconsistent in labeling. Example: subjects are divided by units, each unit being numbered with the current lesson. So, Unit 3, lesson 1 will show on the lesson plan. And the corresponding workbook might say Unit 3, lesson 1. Ditto the teaching guide. Or they might not have that labeling at all, leaving the end user to guess which pages in the teaching guide apply to the current unit and lesson. This makes for a very difficult end-user experience.

Calvert provides complete materials for the school year, aside from a few common household items. For instance, in a science unit that involves an experiment with plants, you might be expected to provide your own pot, dirt and seeds, or in a measuring unit in math you might be expected to use paperclips and other common items as measuring tools. In 2 years with Calvert for 2 kids in different grades I didn't encounter anything we didn't have to do the lesson or couldn't easily improvise.

With K12, we didn't make it through 2 months without needing to purchase books for each child for the literature units. This isn't a huge deal since we buy books for our kids all the time, but given the expense of K12 it's surprising when the texts being taught aren't all included, and time to get the required books delayed the lessons by a day.

Calvert's online system is very orderly and easy to navigate and use. If you are in a public school option and using online lessons, it's very clear which ones are required and how to go about using them. If you are using the teaching advisory service or public school option, any lessons that are required to send in for teacher review are labeled in the lesson plan with instructions to save the lesson to the mail-in portfolio. When mail-in time comes, it takes about 2 minutes to package up and slap on a mailing label because everything is already in one place.

K12's online system is very labyrinthine and many of the options are not clearly labeled. For instance, in K12 you might see a whole list of National Connect classes listed for each child with nothing to indicate which are required, which are optional, which are repeats of a class your child already attended online, and what lesson is being taught for the subject so you can tell if you've covered it yet or not. It does say what core subject it is, but no further detail. My kids' online class options and requirements changed repeatedly in the first two months of the school year with no advance warning or explanation. Questions got contradictory answers or no answers. The online system also features periodic "adaptive lessons" which change based on the answers a student gives. This leads to a wildly unpredictable experience and my kids hated them. And finally, the send-in lesson instructions are very unclear and require a lot of time to deduce which lessons are required for which student, and said lessons have to be rounded up and located long after they've been completed since the instructions aren't provided up front.

Calvert students spend a little time online but the majority of time is spent on text books, workbooks, and doing hands-on activities. The computer is mainly used to see the day's schedule, access the day's lesson plans in order to collect everything needed for each lesson, and to answer the brief set of checkpoint questions after the lesson.

K12 students spend a lot of time online. Science and history are entirely online subjects, except for activities and some writing you might do at the end of a lesson. And while my youngest found games like Noodleverse and Spell and Stack entertaining, she made more progress on her spelling when I made her get away from the computer and write her list of spelling words by hand.

Religion is a hot-button topic for many people. We found the Calvert curriculum firmly based on education and with no religious overtones. This makes it a great fit for a person of any faith who can focus on school at school time and religious instruction outside of school.

This was not true of K12. One child's literature course included Bible lessons taught with a moral focus rather than following the same pattern as all the other literature taught, and one child's 10 question Roman history test featured 3 questions on Christianity and one each on Nero and Augustus. Here's a quote from K12's William Bennett: "Our curriculum has a point of view. We believe in certain things, we believe in certain ideas of right and wrong, and of knowledge and truth and that's manifest in our program. We're centered in the Judeo-Christian tradition, we do not ignore faith and religion, we do not ignore the arguments against evolution, because there are some." If this point of view fits with yours and your philosophy of education, it might be a good fit for you but it isn't pleasant to be taken by surprise by it.

The Calvert curriculum follows the Classical education
pattern using phonics to teach reading, drilling math facts and principles to learn math concepts and is very fact-based in the early grades. A homeschooler who has read The Well-Trained Mind will appreciate the approach used. But even if you don't know the why behind the approach, you can appreciate the results as children master principles and skills they'll need later for higher-level work. The ease of use, completeness, clarity and simplicity make it a terrific experience.

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