Microschools, a loosely defined category of schooling — descriptors range from small learning environments to outsourced homeschooling — are having a moment. The model took off during the pandemic and now serves between 1 million and two million students, according to a rough estimate from Edchoice.org. They tend to convene in commercial or nonprofit spaces, private homes, houses of worship and other creative locations.

It’s unclear how many microschools have popped up across the country. There’s no single database, for instance, tracking those operating in New York and/or in the TriState area. (A Google search brings up a decent selection.)

There is data, however, on how many students with disabilities are being taught via this model. A recently released report finds that 63% of currently operating microschools draw students considered neurodivergent; 53% serve students with other special needs; and 53% those whose educational attainment upon arrival is two or more grades below their chronological grade level.

The study, which covers a variety of areas related to the movement, is called the American Microschools: A Sector Analysis. It was produced by the National Microschooling Center, an organization committed to the microschool movement, which surveyed 400 microschool founders in 41 states.

RELATED NEWS: Letting vouchers fund Indiana microschools could spur innovation, but also a fight for cash

The study’s results were expertly parsed by the74million.org in the article Microschools Fill Niche for Students with Disabilities, Survey Shows, which is recommended reading. It reports that some families are searching out these small programs to help children falling through the education cracks, and  features one family thrilled with the advances they’re seeing in their child. But it also notes some major caveats.

“Like all private schools, microschools don’t have to accept students with disabilities or provide the same services as public schools, putting some parents who might otherwise take advantage of school choice in a tough spot,” it explains. Also, as private schools they have no legal obligation to serve children with developmental disabilities.

“Critics of ESAs and other voucher-type programs stress that students’ rights under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act aren’t guaranteed once they leave the public schools,” it adds. This means, for instance, in most cases there’s no right to due process.

RELATED NEWS: In Pandemic’s Wake, Learning Pods and Microschools Take Root

An article published last year in Youth Today, a national, nonprofit, independent news source, also points out red flags while simultaneously noting that microschools in many ways embody the ideal of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“You look at each child, you provide the services and support, and you deliver the education in a way that the child can access it, and that’s wonderful,” said Lauren Morando Rhim, executive director of Center for Learner Equity. “Where it becomes more complicated is when the child needs more services,” such as specialized instruction for dyslexia or speech or occupational therapies.

And while students with disabilities might have a lot to gain from the small learning programs, they also might have the most to lose, added Travis Pillow, a senior writer at the Center on Reinventing Public Education, as most are not required to follow federal laws protecting students with disabilities, don’t provide enough resources to support them and let them fall behind.

Some public school advocates also fear school choice could financially devastate public schools, cutting into the services students with disabilities need to thrive.

Stay tuned for more updates on the microschool movement. If you’ve had any experience with one, we’d love to hear about it! You can contact The Boost here.

Highlights of the American Microschools Study

  • Many microschools are informal, with students identifying as homeschoolers for the purpose of state registration (and in some states students don’t even need to register as homeschoolers, they can simply homeschool). Others might operate as private schools or tutoring programs, and others might be affiliates of a charter school network.
  • 55% serve children following their state’s homeschooling framework; 37 operate as licensed private schools (accredited or unaccredited); and 6% operate as public charter schools.
  • 55% offer full-time weekly schedules, defined here as at least four days per week and four hours per day, while 28% offer part-time/hybrid schedules and 17% give a choice.
  • 16% of microschools are accredited in their state.
  • They currently serve a median average of 16 children.
  • The most common annual tuition/fees is between $5,000 and $10,000 (43%).
  • A third now accept education savings account funds, up from 18% in the 2023 report.

Share This Story, Choose Your Platform!