Along with others across the nation, families in Arkansas have become interested in a more independent approach to their children’s education
Delta Digital News Service
Friday, Dec. 1, 2023
By Avery Jones | Editor
Microschooling is a growing trend in education. According to The Reform Alliance, a nonprofit in Arkansas concerned with connecting families with education options, microschooling is comparable to the one-room schoolhouse concept. In a microschool, a small group of students meets for a certain amount of days a week to learn together.
It’s separate from a public or private school and falls under the category of homeschooling. Microschooling can either be a child’s main form of learning or a supplement to their homeschooling.
Laurie Lee from The Reform Alliance said that microschooling is becoming more popular because of the past closures of schools due to the recent pandemic; parents have also become more concerned with the state of education. Families want to have a stronger role in their children’s education.
“The great thing about a microschool is that you can’t put it in a box…It’s truly family, community-led,” Lee said.
There’s no definite beginning point for when microschools became a concept. There have been communities and homeschool families who have engaged in group learning before microschooling became popular. However, Lee states that a significant turning point in the microschool movement was the establishment of Prenda, an organization that helps to start microschools.
Prenda was inadvertently started by Kelly Smith in Arizona. He thought students needed a bigger emphasis on STEM in their education. His group grew, and now the organization helps other microschools by providing curricula and advice regarding the technicalities of microschooling.
“I think the verbiage, microschool, the name, might be more new than the concept,” Lee said.
According to Lauren McDaniel-Carter, founder of ACRES, a local microschool, there’s no strict definition of a microschool because the group gets to define it for themselves. There’s a lot of gray area.
“I’ve been calling mine somewhere between a homeschool co-op and a private school,” McDaniel-Carter said.
Her school opened this August. She planned to take no more than fifteen students from the age groups of kindergarteners to fourth graders.
According to Lee, microschools aren’t limited by age group. Some of the schools that The Reform Alliance has helped to set up only take students from kindergarten to third grade whereas others are K-12. The kids usually aren’t separated by age group or grade, either; they all learn together.
“I think the environment breeds a different day every day,” Lee said. “This model is set up to fit the needs of the people that are using it…We’ve seen extreme growth in students in these models over the last three or four years we’ve been actively working in them.”
McDaniel-Carter’s ACRES will focus on the core subjects of language arts and math. The students will use mainly online curricula and depending on the individual’s pace, it will probably take about two hours a day.
The programs used will be completely secular. McDaniel-Carter doesn’t plan to incorporate any religious teachings into the students’ work.
The students will work on computers, but they will be allowed to take breaks and go at their own pace. Additionally, the students don’t have to work on the same subject or curriculum at the same time.
“Rather than [having] these long, extended blocks where kids have to sit still in desks…they can be kind of where they want, they can take breaks…” McDaniel-Carter said. “They may be working on different programs, too. It’s not a one-size-fits-all curriculum…It’s just whatever the kids kind of need at that moment.”
For other subjects like science and social studies, she plans to use a projects-based and hands-on approach. She will also offer “enrichment” subjects like arts and language learning as well as time for unstructured socialization and play.
Her vision is to have the kids “take ownership of their learning.” She wants to have them determine what subject they want to master in a certain amount of time.
“This is the stuff that gets kids excited about school and learning, when they get to do stuff that they’re interested in, and a lot of the times in public school, you only see those opportunities being given to the kids who are excelling,” McDaniel-Carter said. “That kind of learning should not be just reserved for the ‘gifted’ kids. Anybody should have access to it. The fact that kids don’t like school is not a reflection of them, it’s a reflection of the school.”
McDaniel-Carter will guide the kids in the learning process. According to The Reform Alliance, it’s normal for microschools to have “learning guides,” but they don’t have to be certified teachers. McDaniel-Carter wants to eventually be able to hire a part-time learning guide to help.
Unlike public or private school, mastery will not be determined by a score on a standardized test. Students will move on when they’re ready instead of whenever the teacher determines they can move on.
In this way, the kids will not be compared to each other. They aren’t competing with grades, and since each student will be allowed to go at their own pace, they won’t be pulled out of the class for intervention or forced to move on before they’re ready.
Lee said that “Educators are starting to understand that student-focused and student-led days are more productive for kids to learn than a very rote, lecture-style classroom.”
She further stated that children should be taught like they’re going to be adults, which they will be eventually. Adults get to structure their own day and have to prioritize.
If they don’t complete their tasks for the day, those tasks have to roll over into the next day. Children need to learn these skills in environments which will teach them real-life consequences.
At ACRES, to measure her students’ progress, McDaniel-Carter will be able to see how they’re doing on their online programs and what they’re struggling with. She can share progress reports with the students’ families to keep them involved.
Additionally, everything the students do in their project-based learning time will be compiled in a portfolio. She also hopes to implement a badge system in which students will earn badges for certain achievements. Eventually, she wants to be able to host an end-of-the-year showcase to share the students’ accomplishments.
Measuring progress is usually up to the learning guide, according to Lee, but with the new LEARNS act, any school taking EFA funds will have to test students every year with a test set up at the national level. These tests will determine the sustainability of that program.
At ACRES, families will be able to determine how many days their children will attend. Some people might want to only come two days a week as a way to supplement their education at home, while others will want to come all five days as their main source of education.
Additionally, the tuition cost depends on how many days they want to attend. This makes it more accessible for even low-income families.
McDaniel-Carter has also invested much of her personal funds into the school. The school is located at her house in a room they built specifically to be multipurpose.
Lee at The Reform Alliance stated that microschools can be hosted virtually anywhere. She’s seen schools held in someone’s kitchen, repurposed buildings, and churches.
Before McDaniel-Carter decided to start a microschool, she worked as a public school teacher for eleven years. However, it wasn’t for her, and when her husband suggested that she start a “pod school,” she liked the concept of that.
“I can’t believe I lasted that long,” McDaniel-Carter said. “Honestly, I can remember doing my student teaching and thinking, I can’t do this for thirty years.”
She posted in a Facebook group to ask if anyone would be interested in a microschool, and in a couple of hours, she had around eighty responses. The process of starting a microschool has been “surprisingly smooth” for her. She said that she felt like she was following a path instead of trying to carve one.
The most difficult part was trying to get people to commit to the school. People are often reluctant to try something new. In June, she had eleven applications, but people are often prone to drop out or apply at the last minute.
Also, there’s not much clarity on the mandates regarding homeschooling, especially with the added confusion of the new Arkansas LEARNS act. The money provided by the act would be beneficial for her school.
“It would be nice, I feel like, if there was some clarity on what a microschool is and what governs it,” McDaniel-Carter said. “I would love to have access to that money. How that’s going to happen, I don’t know because there’s so little clarity in the act…if the financial barrier is removed, that opens us up to a lot more people.”
According to Lee, The Reform Alliance has set up and assisted in setting up several microschools. On July 22, they hosted a microschool conference in Little Rock where attendees learned about microschooling from the National Microschooling Center.
NOTE: Feature photo of Lauren McDaniel-Carter and her students at ACRES by Atsuki Ohbuchi. All other photos in article also by Atsuki Ohbuchi.
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Microschools all the new rave. Article may or may not reflect the views of KLEK 102.5 FM or The Voice of Arkansas Minority Advocacy Council