What will 2023 hold for America’s microschooling movement? As this phenomenon has gained prominence in the nation’s education landscape, much speculation has been offered as to where it can be expected to go from here. As our team at the nonprofit National Microschooling Center has connected with microschool leaders and families from around the country every day, numerous trends and observations about this exciting sector seem prevalent.
In line with the spirit of the season, here are five fearless predictions I expect to see for microschooling during 2023:
1. The number of learners attending permissionless, alternative learning environments as their main source of schooling will continue to increase across the United States, in both school choice states where taxpayer dollars support equitable access as well as states where minimal school choice exists. This means the phenomenon that took off during pandemic-condition school shutdowns has maintained its strong growth trajectory after most traditional schools have long since reopened (without reinventing).
Tyton Partners researchers determined that nationally a 9% decrease in district public school enrollment occurred between Spring 2021 and Spring 2022 – a decline of more than four million students. And further, as families have increasingly become aware of new possibilities and options, they have shifted to these at impressive rates. As such paths increasingly lead new families, and new educators, to try microschooling, it is an observation worth noting that many of these are newcomers to school choice experiences entirely, often from constituencies previously residing closer to education’s mainstream, and also more likely to represent overall population dynamics more broadly.
2. Customizable, hybrid schooling models will become more common, with growing popularity putting pressure on state regulatory, funding and accountability frameworks to adapt to accommodate these shared learning sources. Expansion of multi-site learning models, which combine elements from different sources in hybrid combination, will allow families to replace their historic reliance on single institutions to serve all teaching and learning needs. What’s more, the new combinations can be much more fluid than year-to-year, or even semester-to-semester, course or school changes. Flexible new school choice funding models in many states, such as education savings accounts, microgrant programs and Nevada’s TOTS grants for special needs learners, are helping to fuel growth of these models.
3. Innovative new sources of launch capital fuel the growth of the microschooling sector utilizing innovative delivery models that challenge long-accepted funding structures. Including revolving loan funds, new permissionless philanthropy models and emergent alternatives to high reward/high risk venture capital investment models, these next-generation arrangements reflect understandings of the ways microschooling’s movement differs from the ways public charter schools, or for that matter entrepreneurial education technology companies, gained their market share, and provides needed support accordingly.
As a recent award announcement from the pioneering leader Vela Education Fund recently explained, “VELA does not dictate solutions to its grantees. Instead, VELA trusts grantees to identify what their communities need and how they can best meet those needs.” Recently, the Yass Prize awarded over $13 million to advance four core principles of sustainable, transformational, outstanding and permissionless education solutions in its second grant year, working in association with the Center for Education Reform. Other national and regional philanthropy decisionmakers are paying attention.
4. Multiple, meaningful measures adopted to demonstrate impact. As local education leaders adopt entrepreneurial approaches to solving ever-evolving educational needs of the learners they serve, it will be especially important that they demonstrate their impact to families and partners in both timely and relevant fashion.
Many microschooling leaders cite the desire to move beyond one-size-fits-all standardized testing regimes as an important motivator for their families and for them. While the charter school movement has steadily moved away from measures of effectiveness rooted in schools’ unique missions and models, microschooling’s very different movement needs to embrace these unique missions to embrace its potential. Along with their families, they value understanding children’s nonacademic growth, including social and emotional development. Short and longer-term goalsetting and frequent reflection on progress pertinent to children’s individual growth trajectories and priorities are also prioritized in many microschools’ relationship-based models.
Microschooling’s diverse stakeholders face compelling opportunities in embracing such priorities in the ways they describe impactful academic and nonacademic progress.
5. New EdTech product offerings gain popularity targeting specialized needs. Amid aggressive growth projections for the edtech sector, widely characterized by innovation to meet the needs of a changing education marketplace, developers are eager to understand America’s burgeoning microschooling sector. As EdTech companies become more nimble in adapting to this new environment, and as microschooling advances through its early adoption phase, the richer the diversity in learning opportunities will become.
Labster’s intriguing science lab simulations, Beast Academy Math’s growing popularity in microschooling environments and Omella’s easy-to-use back office services software present examples with understandable appeal for independent and network-affiliated microschools. Flexible pricing and licensing models suited for small microschools will help accelerate adoption, and the nonprofit National Microschooling Center has expanded its program allowing microschools to benefit from its bulk purchase of licenses and training for recommended learning platforms is indicative of growing market demands.
Platforms offering a relatively seamless ‘backpack’ transfer of individual learners’ growth progress when they switch between different microschools, and adaptive, learner-driven content for science and social studies are two demands often voiced by microschooling leaders. New content learning tools for English Learners, a major and long underserved market by edtech content providers, would be welcomed. And generally, learning tools designed to better support the active partnerships for learning between parents and microschool leaders found throughout the sector would likely gain popularity rapidly.
If you've been following the microschooling movement and have predictions of your own, please take a minute to reach out and share.