Microschooling has recently emerged as a noteworthy and growing phenomenon in U.S. education. This approach to education began as a response to the onset of new digital learning tools and demand from parents for new, highly personalized learning environments. The first forays in microschooling began in Silicon Valley a few years ago, but the COVID pandemic accelerated the rise of smaller learning pods and variations of distance learning during the shutdown. It is estimated that as many as 7.5 million children in the U.S. participated in some form of a learning pod during the height of the pandemic restrictions.
What are microschools and learning pods? Definitions vary, but these schools are characterized by small enrollments (less than 100 students), a small facility footprint, and an education approach that looks and feels like the “one-room schoolhouse” that was once common in communities across the United States. These schools can be legally structured as private schools (microschools) or resource centers for homeschool children (learning pods, hybrid schools). A May 2021 report examined parents’ decisions, satisfaction and expectations for their children’s education during the pandemic. The study found that an estimated 17.5% of children have switched schools
at least once since the beginning of the pandemic. The estimated number of parents using supplemental learning pods will reach 15% during the 2021–2022 school year.
In addition, parent satisfaction with alternative school types increased dramatically during the pandemic. The majority of parents (74%) who enrolled their child in a learning pod or microschool as their “core” school expected to continue into the 2021–2022 academic year. A critical theme throughout the study was ongoing and sustained parent demand for these new forms of learning.
The opportunity for LCMS congregations includes the utilization of microschools as a solution for serving the children in their communities. Traditional schools require significant financial capital, larger enrollments and staffing, and facilities large enough to fit a larger student body. Microschools, however, can open quickly in non-traditional spaces and require much less up-front financial investment. Microschools can reduce risk to a congregation while offering a way for smaller congregations to consider adding an educational ministry. Microschools also provide an opportunity to create student-centered, personalized learning programs focused on a close partnership with parents. Lastly, microschools have the potential dramatically to reduce tuition costs for families seeking a Lutheran education.
What is the future of microschools? Given their low price point relative to traditional private schools, they could represent a significant opportunity for growth for our LCMS congregations and schools. Microschools present an opening to create new schools, revitalize existing schools, or expand those who have outgrown their current facility and are looking to serve more families.