One of the biggest tectonic changes coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic is how American parents think of education. School lockdowns gave parents a look into how the sausage is made—and they weren’t particularly happy with what they discovered. Whether the issue was politicization of curriculum or draconian mask mandates or closures followed by openings followed by closures or the sense that parents had no right to determine their children’s educations, parents saw much about government-provided, district-bound education that they didn’t like.
Understandably, parents that could do so—and, to be honest, many that couldn’t—turned to private schools or homeschooling. Along with charter schools, private schools and homeschooling are well worn alternatives to government-provided education. But new models of educating children have also popped up, and they show every intent of hanging around well past whatever last COVID-19 variant spooks government educators.
Probably the most popular, and the model with most potential, is the microschool. Microschools are what they sound like—a micro version of a school. They are deliberately small, averaging around twelve to fifteen students; the curricula are driven by the students and often augmented by online resources; the educator can be a licensed teacher or not; and the location can be, well, just about anywhere. Some microschools meet in traditional school buildings, others meet in homes, other rent spaces, and some meet in public spaces like libraries.
While microschools gained in popularity during the pandemic, that’s not when they started. NPR did a story in 2014 about “the return of the one room schoolhouse” in America, and Britons dissatisfied with their educational opportunities tried out microschools a little over a decade ago. But the challenges of the pandemic were custom-made for an experiment like microschools. More individualized attention per student, greater parental influence, and more flexible structure are among some of the dynamics that made microschools a natural choice for, ahem, parents plagued by the plague.
And they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. Microschool companies like Prenda and Wildflower are in several states and growing rapidly. Some parents and teachers are running microschools in existing school buildings, and yet others are marrying microschools to educational philosophies like Montessori. And as Education Savings Accounts catch on, microschools will come into the financial grasp of lower income families who will now be able to get their children individualized attention and an improved educational experience.
Microschools are, in some ways, the one room schoolhouse NPR described. But instead of the education of students being limited to what the teacher knows and can teach, microschools can draw from resources across the country. Individualized learning with the world at one’s feet. What’s not to like about that?