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  • Writer's pictureHeather Clayton Staker

11. School at the Atomic Level

Updated: Mar 9, 2020

This resource accompanies Podcast 11: School at the Atomic Level, featuring Prenda School.

In this week's podcast, Shorter School Days, I invite you on an audio tour of Tesla Academy, a microschool in Orange County, Calif., with a short school day and a long list of graduates who have used the windfall of time to become top athletes, television actors, and well-rounded young adults.

Brad Barber, founder of Tesla Academy, believes that some families are over-served by the dawn-to-dusk programming and homework load at typical high schools. He designed his academy to give students more individual attention and less schedule crowding.

Tesla Academy is an example of the growing microschool phenomenon. In a hot-off-the-press Bellwether Education report, Juliet Squire, Melissa Steel King, and Justin Trinidad state that the common feature of microschools is that they are intentionally small — no more than 150 students.

When the authors interviewed me for the report, I told them that there is a certain agility that accompanies size. With larger size comes rigidity. Furthermore, in the past, students needed large schools if they wanted access to a full course menu. But now with online learning, small schools can afford to offer the full menu as well.

Read the new Bellwether Education report on private and microschools

Key findings from the Bellwether report include the following:

  • Up to 40 percent of parents wish their children could attend a private school, but only 10 percent of children get to attend one.

  • Private school tuition is increasingly expensive, which makes it even harder for most families to afford.

  • The decline in Catholic schools, which are typically more affordable than other private schools, is partly to blame for the rise in average tuition for private schooling.

  • Roughly 200 microschools have sprung up in America, the majority of which are Acton Academies.

  • Microschools have radically different financials from traditional schools. Consequently, many have tuition rates in line with low-cost Catholic schools.

I'm fascinated by microschools, not only because I've experienced Acton Academy as a parent for the past decade, but also because microschools have the agility and autonomy to serve as unparalleled research and development laboratories for the rest of the education sector.

What experiences have you had with microschools? Do any features of their financial models, staffing innovations, scheduling flexibilities, or other design choices inspire you? I'd love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below and be sure to see the maps in the Bellwether Report if you'd like to schedule a microschool tour near you. It might change your paradigm of what schools could be.


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