In the pre-COVID era of education, very few Americans had ever heard of a microschool. But as COVID and the ensuing school closures rolled across the country, parents were forced to either get creative or have their kids miss out on learning. Parents in the San Francisco Bay Area made headlines for banding together in small groups, hiring teachers on their own, and paying upwards of $1,000 per student per month for their children to be part of a “learning pod.” When the pandemic had passed, but school closures had not, these tiny virtual classrooms became tiny in-person classrooms. Without perhaps knowing the term, these parents had created microschools.
One of the greatest microschool success stories comes from Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas. It’s one of the nation’s largest school districts, and when COVID struck, Don Soifer and his wife Ashley created microschools that catered specifically to kids who were behind in learning. As the Soifers, who now run the National Microschooling Center, told Reason, those students soon saw better academic performance, and parents rated the schools highly. The microschools had turned their children’s academic trajectories around.
Even as traditional schools reopened their doors, microschool popularity has not waned. The concept of microschooling may sound new, but as a form of learning, it is anything but. For most of human history, organized schooling has happened among small groups of people in close-knit communities. Educators knew each student and their family, and the instructional schedule was flexible to meet the needs of the community.
Today, microschools have a role to play in identifying the students who need help and ensuring they are brought up to speed. In classrooms of any size, a great teacher will be able to spot students who are struggling. But in a small learning environment, an individual child’s challenges are impossible to miss.
Microschools also have flexibility that larger schools do not. They can adapt their schedules to the needs of families, for instance, by starting and ending the school day at a convenient time for working parents, by creating school days that are higher in number but shorter in duration, or scheduling break times that make sense for the families involved.
Teachers can benefit from microschools, too. Too many districts treat teachers like cogs in a machine, but in microschools, even in microschools with multiple teachers, an individual educator’s voice carries much more weight. These teachers get to know the families they serve, and vice-versa, leading to stronger community ties.
Because microschools are, well, “micro,” their facility needs aren’t as big as those of a traditional school. In areas where building a private school from scratch would be cost-prohibitive, securing a microschooling facility might be as simple as finding an unused room at the local library or renting space from a house of worship. Education funding that would ordinarily go toward facilities can go towards instruction and learning resources.
Awareness of microschools as an educational option could be key to bringing more rural Americans into the school choice movement. As school choice bills came up in state legislatures this year, rural areas in Georgia and Texas haven’t been as supportive of school choice as advocates had hoped. One could hardly blame parents for not seeing much benefit in school choice when the only other potential choices would be hours away. But if families could use their child’s education funding to start something totally new, they would have a way out of public schools that don’t meet their children’s needs and a pathway to create a school that does.
No matter where a family lives, the ongoing popularity of microschools demonstrates that families are thinking big for their children by thinking small for their schools.