It’s undeniable that the COVID-19 pandemic has upended how Americans feel about public education. Dissatisfied, angry, and often disgusted by what they discovered through at-home virtual learning about the education their children were receiving, many families made the choice to pull their children out of public schools in favor of private schools, at-home education, or other alternative education options. 

The Return to Learn tracker maintained by the American Enterprise Institute found that since the beginning of the pandemic, approximately 1,268,000 students left the public school system for alternative schooling. The New York City Public school system has lost more than 83,200 students, resulting in an eight percent enrollment drop, since the start of the pandemic.

One such alternative is the microschool, which functions as a sort of “outsourced homeschooling.” Microschools, as the name suggests, are small private schools that offer a personalized education to students, usually capped at around 120 students. Teachers act as guides, rather than instructors, and students are educated through hands-on, project based learning.  

Microschools have been an educational option long before the COVID pandemic ignited an exodus from public schools, but the pandemic brought on a surge of new interest. 

Prenda, a resource that connects students with microschools, experienced massive growth in the wake of the pandemic, and has helped open microschools in six states. The New York Times reported

When the pandemic hit, about 700 students were participating in microschools supported by Prenda, mostly in charter public schools in Arizona; by October, that grew to more than 3,000, and the number of microschools jumped to 326 from 126. 

The microschools approach to learning is unlike anything found in traditional public schools. For example, LEADPrep is a Seattle area microschool founded in 2013 that aims to “create a dynamic space where education is engaging, not one-size-fits-all, for all learners to be seen, heard, valued, and thriving.” LEADPrep offers students unique educational experiences such as weekly community service learning, expeditionary learning in week-long camping trips, student-driven projects, and internships.  

The nation’s capital is home to a growing number of microschools, including Mysa School, which has campuses in both the District and Vermont. The Mysa School Facebook page offers a glimpse into the kind of learning experience that characterize a typical microschool. 

In addition to unique student-led learning experiences, microschools add vibrancy to communities by connecting different institutions. Don Soifer, President of the non-profit Nevada Action for School Options, spoke to the Director of IWF’s Education Freedom Center, Ginny Gentles, on the Independent Women’s Network about why microschooling thrives in his state. His organization outlines a “partnership microschool” design that engages local government entities, family-friendly employers, associations or houses of worship to serve families through the establishment of microschools. While the partner institution (such as a church or employer) provides the space, resources, and technology, the non-profit is responsible for the teaching and learning. 

Aside from the high quality of education and benefits to the community, some of the biggest benefits to microschooling is freedom from bureaucracy, curriculum, and testing constraints, as well as other federal, state, and district mandates. For families interested in learning more about this innovative educational option, there are organizations that support the creation of microschools. Microschool Revolution provides loans to finance the foundational costs and guidance for operations.

For anyone seeking to offer children a high-quality learning environment defined by freedom and personalization, microschooling is a wonderful option. As the education freedom movement continues to make strides, microschooling may very well become a popular schooling alternative for many students.