There is a quiet storm brewing, and the rumble is going unnoticed by most Americans, mainly because we’re all distracted with larger, seemingly more pressing issues. Navigating the current insanity we’re all surrounded by leaves very little attention for noticing the shifting educational sands beneath us. This is especially true during the summer since most kids are out of school. August is swiftly approaching, however, and with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to make headlines along with harrowing memories of many families attempting distance learning this spring, parents are exploring new and innovative approaches to educating their children.
I recently read the book Rethinking School, by Susan Wise Bauer. I skipped reviewing it since there was little untilled ground. We’ve talked a lot about education here at Reading in Between the Life, and as difficult as it is not to be redundant on the subject, I make every effort not to. The thing is, if you parent school-aged children, you already know everyone is rethinking school this year. What began as a necessity is opening our collective consciousness to fresh ways of thinking about education that will revolutionize schooling in America.
Many states are announcing their plans for the fall, and for some families, this means no return to the classrooms. It was one thing to gut it out temporarily through the spring. It’s quite another to contemplate juggling work and school from home as a new school year dawns. Distance learning was roundly unsuccessful, so parents are considering alternatives. Homeschooling is one of those alternatives.
Distance learning using Zoom, prescribed curriculums, and constantly emailing and scanning in assignments isn’t really homeschooling. Homeschooling is altogether different from replicating traditional school at home. Some families may decide that if they can’t send their children to school, they’ll keep them at home on their own terms, which makes sense. There is another, more appealing option emerging in several communities, and this is the one I believe will transform the educational landscape.
Micro-schools are not new. I first read about this back in 2015, when it was mostly the domain of a few niche communities:
Some experts predict micro schools have the potential to not only revive the one-room school house idea of yore, but also shake up the private school sector by offering parents a highly personalized education for their children at lower cost than traditional private schools.
What is a micro-school?
After trying to answer that question for a recent article I wrote for Education Week, I can tell you there is no hard and fast definition for this relatively new phenomenon. But, at least among the people I spoke with, there seems to be a consensus forming around a few core traits:
- Micro schools have no more than 150 students, but are often smaller—from around 10 to a few dozen students;
- Multiple ages learn together in a single classroom;
- Teachers act more as guides than lecturers;
- There’s a heavy emphasis on digital and project-based learning; and
- Education is highly personalized.
But if you’re looking for a quick and conversational way to explain what micro schools are, I’ve been going with “a mix between a lab school and a home school co-op with an emphasis on blended learning.” There’s also nothing written that micro schools have to be private school, they just mostly seem to be.
Traditional schooling, whether public or private, is still the primary choice for most families, but in their absence, necessity’s offspring are filling in the gaps. Micro-schools are gathering steam again as schools hesitate to reopen and parents fear reliving the strains of spring 2020. It’s the best of both worlds: small classes that ease social distancing efforts combined with the educational support that kids and parents both need. It also affords parents the freedom to earn a living, even if they’re earning that living from home. The schools featured in the original stories were expensive, but it would be easy for highly motivated families to pool their resources for more affordable execution of a similar quality of education:
“When the pandemic hit, it was craziness, while at the same time finding out we needed to be doing this distance learning,” said Darcy Alkus-Barrow, a mother of two who works full-time, as does her husband.
Now, the family of four is turning to a growing trend called microschooling, a home-based learning center for younger children that house four to 12 at a time, in a garage or spare room.
It is poised to change the face of education:
According to the Microschool Coalition, the microschool model is “determined to transform education, creating more and better learning environments for our children” and “redesign the learning experience.”
The way it works is that microschools can employ an accredited teacher, or parents can even rotate as a teacher in more of a co-op mode.
By staying with the social pod or COVID-19 cluster idea, it also minimizes exposure between families, creates social stimulation for kids and provides some relief for parents.
It occurs that our children attend what could easily be classified as a micro-school. Fancy that!