A micro school is a small educational environment with a trained instructor. And it may be the best option for your child this fall. Pandemic schooling is difficult without the guidance of a teacher. This academic model offers safety in small numbers and face-to-face instruction.
Many school districts are keeping buildings closed and remaining virtual throughout the fall. COVID-19 concerns have parents scrambling to make decisions for their children amidst limited options.
Challenges with virtual learning and online curriculum last spring have led many parents to consider more creative ideas. Many are choosing to homeschool their k-12 student, using a curriculum that they pick themselves.
The major difference between a micro school and traditional homeschooling is the presence of a trained teacher, often called an outside educator. While in homeschooling a parent teaches, a micro school pays a teacher, or multiple teachers, for expert instruction.
Micro schooling began in the United Kingdom. Small groups of parents dissatisfied with traditional school, or the public schools, got together and hired tutors to teach students.
While the micro school movement has been likened to the "return" of the one-room schoolhouse, these classrooms, from their inception, had no consistent location. The students rotated through homes, doing project-based learning, and working at their own pace.
New York City saw the launch of micro schools in the early 2000s with the high cost of private schools in conflict with the struggling private schools. Today, companies such as Cottage Class exist to support micro schools, with 15 of these models in Brooklyn alone.
Micro schools usually follow a more hands-on educational process. Some of these small schools provide blended learning - in-person experiences in addition to digital curriculum. Other micro schools meet regularly and students work in an innovative environment. They use a self-designed curriculum, emphasizing flexibility, and personalized learner interests.
There are a number of micro school networks available to those searching for a school in their area, or interested in launching their own school. Similar to a franchise, affiliate schools have start-up costs but are then equipped with resources and branding to succeed.
The Acton Academy network grew out of its main campus in Austin, Texas. Now, Acton has ten academies throughout the country and affiliate academies opening up all over the world.
Based in the San Francisco Bay area, five affiliates of Altschool are local. But schools have recently opened in Chicago and New York.
Weekdays is an online platform that supports establishing neighborhood micro schools. Their organization provides training for teachers and founders for preschool and elementary micro schools. Still in their beginnings when the pandemic began, Weekdays has made it to the forefront of news on solutions to the school reopening crisis.
Micro schools have been criticized for increasing inequity in education. The model appears to depend on the ability of resourced parents to find like-minded, resourced parents with whom to collaborate.
While some schools seem neighborhood-based, which could increase equity, others seem similar to private alternative schools where parents unite in intellectual philosophy (and often social standing) to provide better education for their kids.
Champions of the movement, however, are engaging these issues and often working to provide enough resources to scholarship students.
The past months have reminded us that there are no perfect choices when it comes to education. Micro schools do offer a strong alternative picture to our traditional categories of public school, private school, and homeschool.
These small schools also underscore the innovation that can come from disruption and the power of collaboration with your neighbors. And maybe the partnership possible with that mom from the bus stop to whom you've barely spoken.
Finally, micro schools recognize what so many of us lived last spring: younger children need guidance in learning. Virtual platforms offer content, but adult instruction and supervision is still necessary for robust learning. While parents hold this reality in tension with their work responsibilities this fall, for some, micro schools may be just the right non-perfect choice.