1The one-room schoolhouse, that symbol of rural American education that dates
back to the earliest days of the Colonial era, might be on the verge of
making a comeback.
In recent years, a smattering of "micro schools" have popped up in places
such as California's Silicon Valley; Austin, Texas; and New Orleans,
offering parents a drastically different version of K-12 education than
traditional public and private schools. These are tiny schools—sometimes
with as few as half a dozen students—that put a heavy emphasis on
technology and pushing instructional boundaries in a mash-up of lab schools
and home school co-ops.
And with a boutique offering at a lower price point than many independent
schools, micro schools have the potential to shake up the private school
world, say the few experts who have been studying the new trend.
"This is the first innovation in the private system in the U.S. in a long
time," said Michael Horn, a co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute,
a think tank focusing on disruptive innovation. "As a result, I don't know
that we have a great precedent for understanding where it could go or how
far-reaching the impact could be if they really drive down costs."
The definition of a micro school is still being hammered out, but a
consensus seems to be coalescing around a few core details: Schools have no
more than 150 students in grades K-12; multiple ages learn together in a
single classroom; teachers act more as guides than lecturers; there's a
heavy emphasis on digital and project-based learning; and small class sizes,
combined with those other factors, make for a highly personalized education.
Arguably the best known micro school network is AltSchool, thanks to its
ambitious approach of infusing technology into every aspect of instruction,
as well as recent profiles in media outlets such as Wired and Fast Company.
Founded by Google's former head of personalization, Max Ventilla, the micro-
school network has expanded to six campuses in the Bay Area and New York
City, with plans for a campus in Chicago.
But among the earliest micro schools in the country is Acton Academy in
Austin, Texas. Founded in 2009, the school has spawned a network of more
than 10 schools in the United States, Honduras and Guatemala. Another 17
schools, including new sites in Chicago and Budapest, Hungary, are scheduled
to open next year.
Acton's flagship campus in Austin has attracted students from a wide range
of educational backgrounds, including families whose children were in public
schools, private schools, and those who were home schooled.
Among the parents at Acton Academy is Heather Staker. A former colleague of
Horn's at the Clayton Christensen Institute, Staker first learned about the
school while doing research on blended learning. After one phone call with
Acton co-founder Jeff Sandefer to discuss how he uses blended learning in
his school, Staker was sold on the idea. "I hung up the phone and said, 'If
I don't move to Austin, Texas for our own children to attend that school, I'
m going to start one myself.' "
Students play a game of tag during physical education at Acton Academy in
Austin, Texas. Acton Academy is a private
Students play a game of tag during physical education at Acton Academy in
Austin, Texas. Acton Academy is a private "micro" school that uses mixed-age
classrooms and personalized learning.
—Julia Robinson for Education Week
The Stakers were living in Hawaii. But after visiting Acton Academy, they
decided to relocate to Texas to enroll their oldest son, who was eight at
the time and had been attending public school.
"It has a Montessori element and the students are very self-directed so they
'll do their online learning and other core skills work for a couple of
hours, and then when it's project time, they just knew how to get going with
their work," whether it was building robots or filling out patent
applications, Staker said. "[They were] finding joy in learning that was not
possible in the typical, industrial-era classroom."
Small Schools, Big Impact
It's unclear exactly how many of these schools currently exist in the United
States. The National Association of Independent Schools does not track the
number of micro schools in the country. Horn, who also sits on the board for
NAIS, doesn't know of any other organization that does, either. Staker's
best guess is that the tally is in the dozens.
But while the idea is still in its infancy, both Horn and Staker say they
think micro schools have the potential to really shake up the private school
sector. In addition to offering a highly personalized education to students
, they're also a less expensive alternative to many private schools,
especially in high cost-of-living cities like New York and Washington, D.C.
"As we look at our comprehensive high schools in America, they've been
competing over years to offer more courses, more athletics, and it increases
their cost structure," said Staker. "We see the same thing in higher
education. But increasingly, there's a segment of their market demographic
that feels overserved."
With small buildings, few faculty and staff members, and a curriculum built
largely around free, online programs, micro schools strip education down to
the bare essentials.
It costs just under $10,000 a year to attend Acton's flagship school in
Austin and around $25,000 on average at AltSchool. That may seem like a lot
of money—especially when compared to free public school—but tuition at
AltSchool is 10 to 15 percent lower than the average private school tuition
in San Francisco, said Horn.
And private schools on the low end of the spectrum are often religiously
affiliated, such as urban Catholic schools geared mostly toward low-income
families. Even in New Orleans, a city with numerous private and public
options, micro schools have found a niche.
"When we looked around New Orleans, all the private schools were very
expensive or religiously affiliated," said Kim Gibson, a parent of three
children who launched the city's first micro school.
Tuition at NOLA Micro Schools is between $6,000 and $12,000 per year.
Although the overall quality of public schooling in New Orleans has gotten
better in the decade since Hurricane Katrina triggered a massive overhaul of
the city's K-12 system, the pace wasn't moving fast enough for Gibson,
whose oldest daughter is in 6th grade.
Gibson saw other benefits to going the private school route, even in a city
where charters account for over 90 percent of all public schools. With fewer
regulations than even charters, Gibson could get her school up and running
more quickly while having the freedom to build a curriculum unrestrained by
standardized tests. Her reasoning echoes Max Ventilla's, the founder of
AltSchool, who has said going the private school route allows the network to
expand faster and experiment more around instruction.
Next Stop: Charter Sector?
While some tout micro schools as a model for bringing change to private
education, others see them as a means to a different end—a low-risk way to
pilot public charter schools before launching full-scale campuses. That's a
new, and much talked about initiative of 4.0 Schools' mission, a New Orleans
-based education incubator nonprofit that helped Gibson start her school.
The organization is supporting the development of a handful of tiny pilot
charters in New Orleans and California, as well as a Catholic micro school
network based in Atlanta.
Although public schools, specifically those within the charter sector, are
just starting to experiment with the micro-school model, Horn doesn't
foresee that private micro schools will become a serious threat to regular
public schools—it will always be hard to compete with tuition-free schools,
he said. But Horn predicts that micro schools may eventually eat up the
same share of the private school market as charters have of the public
"To me, it's not hard to imagine this being 5 percent to 10 percent of the
schooling population," said Horn. "I think those independent schools are
quite worried about them—or they should be if they're not."
Vol. 35, Issue 19, Page 11
【在 a*****g 的大作中提到】
: The one-room schoolhouse, that symbol of rural American education that dates
: back to the earliest days of the Colonial era, might be on the verge of
: making a comeback.
: In recent years, a smattering of "micro schools" have popped up in places
: such as California's Silicon Valley; Austin, Texas; and New Orleans,
: offering parents a drastically different version of K-12 education than
: traditional public and private schools. These are tiny schools—sometimes
: with as few as half a dozen students—that put a heavy emphasis on
: technology and pushing instructional boundaries in a mash-up of lab schools
: and home school co-ops.