State Policy Network
Microschools: Explained

Microschools are popping up all over the country. It’s been more than a year since the coronavirus hit, but millions of American families are still reeling from the pandemic’s impact on education. Frustrated with their child’s learning environment during this time, many parents have turned to alternative education options, including microschools. But what exactly are microschools, why were they created, and what are the benefits of this innovative learning method?

What are microschools?

All microschools are different, but most share a few general characteristics. Most have blended age groups, so children of all ages learn together. Students can attend a few times per week or the traditional five-day schedule.

Microschools can vary in size, with as few as five students and as many as 150. Most microschools have 15 or fewer students. Because of their small size, microschools give each student a personalized education. Teachers act more as guides than lecturers, instruction involves hands-on, activity-based learning, and students learn through projects, not memorization.

Education Next described the learning environment at Acton Academy, one of the largest microschool networks:

Acton Academy compresses students’ core learning into a two-and-a-half-hour personalized-learning period each day during which students learn mostly online. This affords time for three two-hour project-based learning blocks each week, a Socratic seminar each day, game play on Fridays, ample art and physical education offerings, and many social experiences.

How are microschools different than learning pods?

Unlike learning pods, microschools are affiliated with an official network, like Prenda School or Acton Academy

When were they created?

You may think microschools are another product of 2020. But they have been around long before the coronavirus. In fact, the Alternative Education Resource Organization has been helping parents and educators start microschools since 1989!

Why were microschools created?

Microschools were created for families who wanted an alternative to public school but who couldn’t afford or didn’t want to pay for the high cost of private school. These families were also looking for alternative learning models to the traditional way public and private schools teach children.

How many microschools are there?

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly how many microschools exist because the National Association of Independent Schools doesn’t track them. However, one of the largest microschool networks is Acton Academy, which launched in 2009 and now operates more than 180 microschools in the United States and abroad.

How much do microschools cost?

Microschools are typically less expensive than private schools. AltSchool, a microschool network in San Francisco, is typically 10-15 percent cheaper than private schools in the area. Tuition at most Acton Academies ranges from about $4,000 to $10,000.

What are the benefits?

Microschools offer students a personalized education and cater to a child’s unique needs and capabilities. Because they are small, students receive far more individualized attention than they would receive in a traditional school. And, as noted above, microschools are generally more affordable than private schools. Many students thrive in this type of education setting.

How did the coronavirus impact microschools?

Due to the coronavirus, microschools have exploded in popularity over the past year. Frustrated with their child’s learning environment during the pandemic, many parents turned to microschools as an alternative education option. Other parents turned to microchools for health reasons. Many were concerned about their child catching the coronavirus at school and were drawn to the smaller class sizes offered.

Are there programs to help parents pay for microschools?

Some states have Education Savings Accounts (ESA) programs that help parents pay for alternative education options like microschools. The state government deposits a portion of what the state would have spent to send the child to public school into a private account that parents can use for education-related expenses. 

Additional Resources

Is micro-schooling the answer to pandemic-time education?
Beacon Center of Tennessee

Teachers’ union opposes popular micro-schools as they threaten union’s control
Center of the American Experiment

Microschooling: The new way parents are getting creative about school for the fall
Good Morning America

The Rise of AltSchool and Other Micro-schools
Education Next

Microschools, hybrid options, and online classes: Education during COVID and beyond
Georgia Center for Opportunity

Introduction to Micro-schools
Entrepreneur Academy

Micro-schools
Medium

What Is a Micro School? And Where Can You Find One?
Education Week

The one-room schoolhouse is the next big thing in education
Business Insider

Microschooling: A new educational option for parents
Nevada Policy Research Institute

Let’s Get Small: Microschools, Pandemic Pods, and the Future of Education in America
The Heritage Foundation

Categories: Policy Solutions
Policy Issues: K-12 Education
Organization: State Policy Network