What is the definition of a microschool? We get asked that a lot. Makes sense, being the National Microschooling Center and all.
Before addressing the question, let’s first describe what we’re talking about.
Microschools are small learning environments serving learners from multiple families. They are organized in different ways: learning centers supporting families adhering to their state’s homeschooling requirements, private schools (accredited or not), public charter schools, and even microschooling within district-run traditional public schools. Some microschools operate independently, some align with provider networks, others are run as active partnerships. While some are home-based, many creatively find space within business buildings, houses of worship or nonprofits.
Microschools often look very different from each other, with a wide range of teaching and learning models. It is one of the Center’s core beliefs that microschools’ powerful potential resides largely from the fact that, being small and innovative, they can be created around the needs of the particular learners they serve. Their leaders are able to be responsive to these evolving needs, so learners can thrive.
Hybrid arrangements are another compelling aspect of microschooling. While some microschools allow learners to work both at home or on campus on different days, the hybrid promise can entail much more. Sharing the heft of responsibility for learning between different sources for different topics, especially in this golden age of online content, offers much learners and families value. While a child may learn onsite at their a microschool three days each week, they can choose an array of other sources for learning, including apprenticeships, online classes, outdoor opportunities, or other microschools on other days.
When it is policymakers considering defining microschools, it’s crucial to their success that any definition be broad enough to allow them these flexibilities.
It’s just as essential that any definitions anticipate that we don’t know what microschooling will look like in years to come, as they advance through their early adoption stage and especially as hybrid models get more interesting.
One parallel worth considering was when federal lawmakers sought a definition for blended and personalized learning they could codify in federal legislation as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015. These were proliferating buzzwords describing all sorts of classroom structures, with an equally wide range in their efficacy and academic outcomes. And when academic researchers like the esteemed RAND Corporation went to study their effectiveness, they found that the field was moving so quickly, that no schools using these models wanted to stand still for long enough to subject their students to their gold-standard, multi-year research designs. So they chose to keep it simple and adopt a short, simple and very broad definition that would essentially include any setting where a child learned at a computer while a teacher taught in person.
For those asking about definitions for microschools, the most sensible solution at this crucial stage in their trajectory, ‘less is more’ for whatever they are looking to accomplish feels both pertinent and prudent.
All are welcome in this exciting space. As long as they identify as microschools, that’s all our Center needs to help them become their best selves as part of this exciting movement. For those feeling more is necessary to traverse the complications of their landscape and frameworks, I’d humbly suggest they begin by spending time getting to know some of the diversified and popular microschools near them. At the National Microschooling Center, we are happy to help.