Enrollment in Pennsylvania district schools has fallen slightly more than 3 percent since 2019-20 – a drop of nearly 51,000 students. At the same time, homeschooling and private school enrollment have risen 53 percent and 5 percent, respectively. There has clearly been an uptick in parents selecting options beyond their local district school, and the trends don’t show any signs of slowing as another school year wraps up.
Two increasingly popular options are microschools and hybrid schools. Unfortunately, these are often choices that seem foreign and complicated to many parents, keeping families who would likely thrive in one of these options from taking the leap. The models don’t necessarily have strict definitions, and the terms aren’t mutually exclusive. A microschool can be a hybrid school, and vice versa. All of this can add to the confusion for parents exploring their options.
Microschools, as the name implies, are small – sometimes consisting of fewer than ten children in a close age range. A larger microschool might serve 100 or so students in small, multiage groups, like ages seven to nine, ten to thirteen, and so on. Microschools often place students based on where they currently are in a subject area rather than relying solely on their age. They also tend to be more student-directed compared to a conventional classroom, with learning coaches, tutors, or guides there to help the kids learn. There may or may not be a formal curriculum.
Hybrid schools utilize a combination of at-school and at-home learning, but there can be much variety in how they are structured. Students may meet in person two days and learn at home three days – or the other way around. Some hybrids meet half days in person, while the rest of the time is spent at home. Parents, students, and teachers often call it the “best of both worlds,” as their children get the support of in-person instruction and the flexibility of homeschooling. No wonder recent polling shows 55 percent of Pennsylvania parents are interested in some level of hybrid schooling.
Microschools and hybrid schools can utilize a variety of educational philosophies, like classical, Montessori, Charlotte Mason, unschooling, and forest schooling – or a combination of these approaches. Since they are generally smaller and have heavy parental involvement, both sectors tend to be very nimble and flexible, allowing them to adapt as their students’ needs change.
Some microschools and hybrid schools are official private schools that students attend to comply with compulsory education laws. In others, students register as homeschoolers but receive some of their instruction at the hybrid school. In Pennsylvania, as far as we are aware, most microschools and hybrid schools are not official private schools, and their students are registered as homeschoolers.
Fortunately, many microschools and hybrid schools operate throughout Pennsylvania. In the microschool space, Acton Academy has long been a leader. Founded by Jeff and Laura Sandefer in Texas in 2009, Acton now has more than 280 locations worldwide – including eleven in Pennsylvania. Some Pennsylvania Acton Academies operate as official private schools and others as homeschool co-ops, where parents retain responsibility for complying with all Pennsylvania homeschool laws.
Hybrid schools are also scattered throughout the state. Providence Hybrid Academy in the Lehigh Valley was founded in 2017. Students learn at home Mondays–Wednesdays and attend PHA Thursdays and Fridays. Bramblewood Academy in Hilltop is a program for pre-K through early high school that started in fall 2020. Families can participate in a two-day hybrid program on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, in which parents generally volunteer in exchange for a reduced tuition. A drop-off program that does not rely on parent-volunteers operates on Mondays. Both PHA and Bramblewood incorporate a lot of time outdoors and allow students a fair amount of freedom.
Frequently, these new educational options are launched by parents who want something different for their children or former teachers who feel constrained by the public school system. While they may not have planned to become education entrepreneurs, they see a need and step up.
Parents whom we have talked with and who have taken the leap into microschools or hybrid schools are typically very happy with their decisions. If you’ve been considering other options for your children, there’s no time like the present to give them a chance. And if you’re near the Lehigh Valley, PA Families for Education Choice will hold an event at Providence Hybrid Academy on May 19 to help answer questions about the many options available today.
This piece was originally published in RealClear Pennsylvania. Read the original article here.
Colleen Hroncich is a policy analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom. Sharon Sedlar is founder and president of PA Families for Education Choice.