Designing a Micro-school

Katherine Curry and Jackie Mania


 

How do I Start a Micro School?

Do Your Homework.  When considering the creation of a Micro School, you will want to review the current models, read the relevant literature, and possibly visit other Micro Schools.  As each Micro School is unique in its location, structure, and organization, having an understanding of what is currently available and what educational gaps exist may help you in designing your program.  Below are some Micro School models and a suggested reading list to get you started.

Current Micro School Models:

Suggested Reading:

Develop Your Mission and Identifying Your Population.  Starting a micro-school begins with developing a clear vision.  You will first decide whether you will be creating the vision, or if you will need to enlist the assistance of a team.  When creating your team, you will want to consider the skills, background, and experience of those around you.  Additionally, you may consider including a partner or sponsor for you micro-school and would want to give the partner voice on the team. Finally, you may want to consider including potential parents or students on the team to provide important feedback about the user experience.  Important questions for you or your team to consider when developing a mission and identifying the target population are:

  • Why do you want to start a micro-school?
  • What do you want to offer in your micro-school?
  • Who are your students?
  • What does the typical day of your students/teachers/parents look like?
  • How will you accomplish this?
  • When your students graduate from your micro-school, who will they be?

The answers to these questions as well as the vision and target population will guide decisions regarding specific design elements of your micro-school.  These design elements include the learning environment, the curriculum, and the mode of instruction.

Create Your Learning Environment.

  • Learning Space – Deciding on a learning space is done through careful consideration of two questions, what does the ideal space to carry out my micro-school vision look like? and how much am I willing to pay?  By design micro-schools are small, the vast majority enroll less than 150 students with many hosting as few as 15.  Because of the size, micro-schools can be created in shared spaces (e.g., teacher’s home, churches, public libraries, schools within schools) or built out in rented spaces (e.g., office buildings, shopping malls, office parks).  When considering space, it is important to keep in mind what the students will be doing during the school day and when they will be doing it.
  • Learning Schedule – The flexibility innate of micro-schools allows for innovation in scheduling.  Many micro-schools attend classes less than five days a week for only a few hours a day, and many others plan their sessions around school holidays or to allow for longer or more frequent breaks.  Part of designing a micro-school is deciding when school will be in session, what time(s) of the day will be structured and when will students control their own time, how will teachers structure their days, and how many cohorts of students will be using the school at one time?
  • Learning Model – As important as where and when the students will learn is how they will learn.  When deciding on a learning model, you will want to consider what the students will be expected to do and know when they complete their learning at your school.  You will also want to consider if students will be allowed to pace themselves, how students will be assessed for mastery of skills and competencies, and how will instruction be delivered or experienced?  While some micro-schools build on existing models (e.g., Acton, AltSchool), there is no single definition of instruction in a micro-school.  You may choose to include digital learning, project-based learning, semi-structured learning environments, a blended model of online curriculum and in-class activities, or a combination of in-school activities and homeschool or “study hall.”  Additionally, your choice of learning model may be driven by your choice of population.  If your micro-school targets a specific population such as under-credited students, students with specific learning challenges, students identified as gifted, you may design a model to best suit the unique needs of those students.

Develop Curriculum and Locate Resources.  Technology makes it easier than ever to access quality learning materials and provide students opportunities to learn authentically.  You may consider incorporating one or more of the following technologies into your micro-school as a low-cost or no-cost alternative to high-priced textbooks and packaged curriculum materials.

  • Learning Platforms – Learning platforms are a foundation for personalized learning.  Many of the existing learning platforms allows teachers to develop engaging online content and for students develop and track progress toward personalized learning plans.  Learning platforms can also be used to extend the learning community outside the classroom and provide a comprehensive place for students to work together, access learning apps, and access support for projects.  Examples of popular learning platforms include Edmodo, Schoology, and Peak from FuelEd.
  • Open Education Resources – Educators across the globe are contributing to the wealth of open education resources available online.  The resources allow for anytime learning and can either be used to compliment classroom curriculum or combined into an engaging, open ‘textbook’ for a course.  Examples of open education resources include Khan Academy, iCivics, iTunes U and MIT OpenCourseWare.
  • Maker Resources – Teaching STEM concepts and coding has become much easier at all levels with student friendly tools such as LittleBits, Ozobots, and Lego Robotics.
  • Online Curriculum – Though not free, online curriculum and courseware can be purchased from a number of providers.  Micro-schools interested in providing an accredited curriculum that meets most of the state standards may consider this option in lieu of developing curriculum because of the time and effort commitment in creating your own.  Examples of curriculum available for purchase are OdysseyWare, K12, and Calvert.

Calculating the Tuition Rate.  Calculating the tuition rate for your micro-school requires consideration of a number of factors.  While the simplest method includes calculating the total costs for the school and dividing that total cost by the number of students you plan to enroll, this method is often impacted by other external factors.  When calculating a tuition rate, your decision should also be guided by the following:

  • Build in Some Profit Margin – Often the number of full-tuition students who enroll is less than what you planned.  You want some margin built into your tuition to cover less than capacity enrollments and/or tuition discounts.
  • Competition – Your search for tuition should start by researching similar schools in your area.  Although your program offerings may differ, it is important to be able to explain to potential families how your program provides them a unique experience worth the tuition cost.  Additionally, you may research historically comparative data.  Have similar schools dramatically increased tuition over the years?  Have they increased enrollment?  Their historical patterns may reveal clues as to what to expect in your future.
  • Target Population – It is equally important to consider your target population.  You will want to determine what amount of tuition your target population is able/willing to pay for the micro-school experience.  In addition, you may research the area in which you are located for projected changes in population or development.
  • Future Goals – As you develop a business plan, it is important to look toward the future.  When calculating tuition costs, you will want to consider projected enrollment in future years as well as space needs for a larger enrollment.  Dramatic increases in tuition costs for existing families can be a challenge for sustainability.  You will want to consider a tuition cost that allows for future growth and keeps costs relatively consistent for families.

Conclusion.  Micro-schools provide an opportunity for individuals to design educational experiences based on the most recent research to meet the interests of families looking for options beyond traditional schools and classrooms.  Because of their size, micro-schools are flexible, able to change and adapt to each enrollment of students providing a personalized learning environment in which students are challenged to grow academically and personally. This guide has provided information to guide your development of your micro-school, and with thoughtful planning and budgeting, your school can fill a need in your community.

This is a follow-up to the post on Introduction to Micro-schools.

Link to Micro-school Sample Models and Budgets


 

References

Benson, S. (2015). Micro schools: Opportunities and potential challenges. Newschools Venture Fund. Retrieved July 27, 2017.

Childcare Resources, Inc. (2017). Requirements for childcare centers. Retrieved July 30, 2017.

Horn, M. B. (2015). The rise of altschool and other micro-schools. Education Next, 15(3).

Oklahoma State Department of Education (2017). 2014-2015 Accreditation standards for Oklahoma schools. Retrieved July 30, 2017.

Oklahoma State Department of Education (2017). State minimum teacher salary schedule.Retrieved July 30, 2017.

Robinson, M. (2016). The one-room schoolhouse is the next big thing in education. Business Insider. Retrieved July 27, 2017.

Salary.com (2017). Teacher aide salaries. Retrieved July 30, 2017.

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