What Are Microschools? 6 Pros and Cons for Parents

Microschools come in as many forms as public, private, and charter schools do. Here are some pros and cons to consider before enrolling in this alternative schooling model.

Emily Veno
• 
February 11, 2024

Did you know American compulsory education laws (the laws requiring every child to attend school) are only one hundred years old? At the start of the 1920s, 65% of children in the U.S., if they attended school at all, attended a one-room schoolhouse. Curriculum wasn’t accredited, teachers weren’t certified, and all grade levels learned together. Compulsory education introduced busing of students to larger school buildings, creation of state standards, and the bureaucratic education system we know today.

Every child deserves a high-quality education, and compulsory schooling is the way society strives to deliver on that promise. But like many bureaucratic systems, the public school system faces challenges of scale. What’s good for the masses isn’t always good for an individual child. Public education is also slow to change. The world has changed rapidly since the 1920s, but the typical classroom today looks much like it did back then.  

The 2020s have marked an education revolution, driven by parents realizing there is no one “right” way to do school. At Prisma, we work with parents seeking a more personalized, less bureaucratic form of schooling, driven by their child’s needs over the needs of the system.

But still, everything old is new again. Some families find themselves drawn to the old vision of the one-room schoolhouse, redesigned for the 21st century. Enter microschools!

What is a Microschool? Definition

Microschools come in as many forms as public, private, and charter schools do. In general, a microschool is a deliberately small learning environment, with typical class sizes anywhere from 5-20 students, operating outside of the traditional school system.

Microschools are sometimes described as a halfway point between traditional schooling and homeschooling, but for many families, enrolling in a microschool is essentially enrolling in a very small private school. Whether you need to register as a homeschooler to join a microschool depends on your area’s laws and the microschool’s legal status. Below, you’ll find a list of questions to ask any microschool to determine quality and fit for your child.

Microschool leaders can be certified teachers, but are sometimes homeschooling parents or entrepreneurs without a teaching background. Although the public awareness of microschools grew during the era of “pandemic learning pods,” microschools existed before 2020.

Microschools operate in a variety of locations, from homes to storefronts, churches, and community centers. Sometimes, a microschool is a part of a larger organization with oversight over the curriculum and program, similar to a franchise.

Popular microschool organizations include Prenda, Acton Academy, and KaiPod. Prenda and Acton Academy have their own curriculum, while KaiPod is more like a coworking space where learners use the curriculum best for them (some KaiPod families attend online schools, including Prisma).

Microschools and the Education System Revolution

Ernst & Young has reported a 2.6% enrollment decline in public schools since 2020, representing more than a million students. Where are all these students going? Microschools are one option in an expanding landscape of alternative learning models:

  1. Homeschooling: Learning at home takes more forms than ever, from the classic “parent-as-teacher” approach to co-ops, similar to microschools, where parents teach kids in small groups.
  2. Charter and private schools: When enrolling in a non-public school, parents select a school aligned to their values and child’s learning style, from progressive and project-based to classical and strict.
  3. Worldschooling: The rise of remote work has enabled families to live a more flexible lifestyle. Worldschooling is a form of homeschooling built around full or part-time travel.
  4. Online schools: Online learning programs used to be a low-quality, last-resort option for credit recovery or a more flexible schedule. Now, innovative online schools, such as Prisma, serve families who want the personalization and flexibility of homeschooling but the accreditation, support, and community of traditional school.

The school choice movement aims to increase access to these options. Organizations like EdChoice provide information and resources on paying for alternative education models through school choice legislation such as Education Savings Accounts.

What's Prisma?

  • Prisma is an accredited, project-based, online program for kids in grades 4-12.
  • We exist to ignite a lifelong love of learning and prepare kids to thrive in the future.
  • Our middle school, high school, and parent-coach programs provide personalized curriculum, 1:1 support from educators, and cohorts where kids build community.

Pros and Cons of Microschooling

Know the traditional school system isn’t best for your child but not sure if microschooling is the answer? Here are some pros and cons to consider.

Pro: Pick the best learning environment for your child

Not all microschools offer the same approach. Some incorporate hands-on, project-based learning. Some are more traditional, with worksheets, textbooks, and tests like a regular school, only smaller class sizes. Others have each learner use a different curriculum, often by following a personalized program on laptops or iPads. Microschools offer the opportunity to handpick the approach best for your child.

Con: May lack oversight and accreditation

Even if you’re not a fan of the traditional school system’s bureaucracy, you may not be comfortable with a totally unaccredited program. Although accreditation is not legally essential (traditional homeschooling, and some private schools are unaccredited), knowing a program is vouched for by an expert third party is important to many families. Some microschools use accredited curriculum, such as families who enroll in Prisma while attending KaiPod.

Pro: Small groups can mean more 1:1 support

Decades of education research support the benefits of individualized instruction. “Bloom’s 2-Sigma Problem” refers to the finding that students who receive 1:1 tutoring perform a remarkable two standard deviations above average. This is why Prisma is designed around 1:1 coaching. With fewer learners in a class, microschools allow educators to spend more time supporting students individually.

Con: Many needs in one room can be inefficient

Most microschools, like one-room schoolhouses of yore, teach learners of multiple grade levels. Although there are benefits to mixed-age learning, it can be inefficient, leading to lots of independent work time while the teacher is supporting other kids. At Prisma, learners are matched with a virtual cohort based on age and ability, while getting 1:1 support outside of live classes.

Pro: Often more flexible than traditional schools

Some microschools operate like small schools, with a set calendar and required schedule. Others are more flexible, allowing families to drop in similar to a co-working space. Because there are fewer families to contend with, microschool leaders are often flexible in other ways too, adjusting the program based on parent feedback.

Con: Fewer extras, electives, and extracurriculars

School is about more than reading, writing, and arithmetic. Many families count on extras like transportation, lunch, and supplies microschools may not have capacity to offer. They also don’t provide access to the range of electives and extracurriculars found at traditional schools, so if your child wants Honors or AP courses, sports teams, drama productions, or student government, you’ll need to get creative. Although Prisma offers virtual clubs, advanced courses, and leadership opportunities, our families also do things like participate as homeschoolers in local public school sports teams.

Questions to Ask Before Enrolling in a Microschool

  1. Is this program a private school, or will I need to register as a homeschooler? This answer depends on your area’s laws and the preference of the microschool leader.
  2. What is your philosophy? Microschools run the gamut from Montessori to classical to totally personalized. Have a sense of what you’re looking for before asking.  
  3. How do you measure success? Even if accreditation isn’t important to you, the microschool should have a plan to measure student learning. For example, though Prisma kids earn badges instead of traditional grades, learners take nationally normed tests twice per year to hold us accountable.
  4. What is the range of learner grade and ability levels, and how are they all supported? Will some of your child’s peers be learning to read while others are reading to learn? Will older kids be expected to teach younger kids? How do peers collaborate?
  5. Is there a plan in place for long-term sustainability? Many microschools are run as start-ups, and may close if enrollment dips or the leader has a change of heart. Make sure you’re comfortable with the team’s level of commitment.
  6. What is your retention rate? The flexibility of microschools can lead to a lack of consistency in the community. Ask why other parents are leaving and how much turnover to expect.

The landscape of educational options has never been more exciting. I often discuss with fellow education entrepreneurs how we’re on the precipice of an even bigger explosion, as families see each other leaving the traditional system for new education models better preparing kids for a rapidly changing future.

Whether you enroll in an existing program or even start your own microschool, the new wave of one-room schoolhouses is empowering for families. At Prisma, we believe the future of education will be personalized, community-driven, and a partnership between parents and educators—and microschools are a great example.

Join our community of families all over the world doing school differently.

Want to learn more about how Prisma can empower your child to thrive?

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