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What are ‘microschools,’ and why are more parents joining them?

(NewsNation) — Parents looking to avoid overcrowded classrooms are returning to a more old-school style of teaching.

“Microschools,” which surged in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, are a ” modern reinvention” of the one-room schoolhouses used throughout history, NewsNation partner The Hill writes.

With a median student body size of 16, children of varying ages can get “personalized instruction” from a teacher in the same room at microschools, according to The Hill.

“What’s beautiful about it is that they’re not only in a small learning environment, which is enough to work for an awful lot of kids, but they really can truly be built around the specific needs of the particular learner that you’re serving,” CEO of the National Microschooling Center, Don Soifer, said on “NewsNation Now.” “It’s really one of the most exciting storylines we’ve seen in American education in a generation.”

How many microschools are there?

Soifer says there are about 1.5 million children who attend about 95,000 microschools in the United States.

The Hill writes that it’s “unclear” how many existed before 2020 or how many opened at the beginning of the pandemic, as many microschools just took the form of “informal learning pods” at first.

However, Soifer said in The Hill that the number “definitely jumped” during the 2020-21 academic year.

Who teaches in microschools?

Microschools, according to the Microschooling Center, can take the form of home-schooling, licensed private schools or unaccredited nonpublic schools.

They can even use public charter or traditional public school space if state and local rules allow for it, the Microschooling Center said.

“Many describe microschools as a ‘mid-point’ between traditional schooling and homeschooling,” EdChoice wrote in 2022. Most are parent-led, but others are affiliated with microschool “networks” offering paid, in-person instructors, the publication said. Lessons can take place in homes, libraries or community centers.

Whether microschool educators need to be licensed depends on which of these models it uses. Soifer said a little over half of microschool teachers are licensed educators, while others “bring backgrounds that are completely different.”

Most microschools are not accredited. A survey shared with The Hill from the National Microschooling Center found only 16% were accredited in their state. The Hill attributes this to the fact that many microschools are used for home-schooling students and do not need accreditation. In addition, home-school and private school regulations vary from state to state.

What do microschool supporters say?

Those who support microschools say that it gives children and parents a flexible schedule, as well as time and attention they might not get in a regular learning environment.

Microschools, Soifer said, do “terrific work,” especially when it comes to kids who may be neurodivergent, have special needs or who might otherwise not be doing well in other educational settings.

“It’s really about thriving,” Soifer said.

What do critics of microschools say?

Some have criticized microschools over concerns about the quality of education children are receiving in them.

Jen Jennings, director of Princeton University’s Education Research Section, said in The Hill that it was a lack of oversight and clarity in what coursework was being offered that led the U.S. to adopt more organized and unified school systems instead of the “one-room schoolhouses” microschool are based on.

“So, the concern with microschools … and any form of state-funded education where there is no quality backstop is that we simply just don’t know what kids are getting,” Jennings said.   

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