Over the past two years of social and economic disruption, education in the United States has experienced an extraordinary transformation that can best be defined by 3 “Es”: Empowerment, Exit, and Entrepreneurship.
Beginning in the spring of 2020, and spurred by widespread school closures and distance learning, parents began to take back control of their children’s education. For some, looking closely at their children’s classrooms and curriculum on Zoom was the prompt they needed to make a change. For others, they may have long thought about a different learning environment for their children, but lacked the catalyst to take the plunge. The education upheaval of 2020 provided that catalyst.
In the summer of 2020, “pandemic pods” emerged, as parents began to take charge of their children’s education to deal with the uncertainty of fall schooling plans. These parent-led spontaneous learning communities brought together small groups of local children in someone’s home, often with a committed teacher or with parents who took turns leading a program.
With most American children starting the 2020/2021 school year remotely, many parents exercised their newfound autonomy by going outside. Some transferred their children to private schools that were more likely to reopen for in-person learning than district schools in some places. Others delayed early school entry for their preschool and kindergarten children. Many parents have dropped out of school altogether, pulling their children out of school for independent home schooling. The United States Census Bureau found that the rate of home schooling doubled from spring 2020 to fall 2020, with over 11% of the US school-age population being home-schooled at that time. The largest increase was among homeschooled Black families, who saw a fivefold increase in homeschooling rates between spring and fall 2020. Black children were overrepresented in the homeschooling population at home in the fall of 2020 compared to the globally K-12 public school population.
Even though most district schools reopened for full-time in-person learning in the fall of 2021, many parents stayed away. This was especially true if they lived in a school district that had adopted remote learning the previous school year. These districts continued to lose students, but not as quickly as the previous year, according to news reports. Data analyzed by the American Enterprise Institute.
A similar trend was true for homeschooling. “Home schooling numbers this year have fallen from last year’s record high, but are still significantly above pre-pandemic levels,” the Associated Press said. reported last month after evaluating data provided by 18 states. It concluded that homeschooling numbers rose 63% in the 2020/2021 school year, then fell 17% this school year, remaining significantly high.
Recognizing the growing demand from parents for a variety of learning options and school alternatives, education entrepreneurs have begun to create solutions. Some of these entrepreneurs were themselves parents or teachers frustrated with school closures and ongoing virus-related policies. Jill Perez, a mother of four in New Jersey, started teaching in public schools 20 years ago, then moved into a student-teacher advisory role at a local university until Covid hit. She started a “pandemic pod” with several other families in 2020/2021, but demand grew for something bigger and more formal.
In the fall of 2021, Perez opened the Tranquil Teachings Learning Center which allows children to attend part-time or full-time. She hired teachers, especially public school teachers who wanted more freedom and flexibility. “These teachers love what they do in a way they haven’t had in years,” she told me in a recent Podcast interview. Her program has grown to over 50 children and she recently purchased a building for her learning center with plans for continued expansion.
Education entrepreneurs who introduced new learning models, such as microschools, before 2020 have seen their growth accelerate over the past two years. As I wrote on Forbes.com last fall, fast-growing microschool networks Acton Academy and Prenda Learning have seen interest in their programs skyrocket.
Micro-schools are typically small multi-age classrooms led by a facilitator or guide that often meet in family homes, recreating a one-room school feel with personalized learning as the top priority.
Other microschools meet in small stores in local communities, providing convenience and personalization. KaiPod Learning, for example, launched its microschool pilot model in Newton, Massachusetts last year, bringing together small groups of students in a public, commercial space with an experienced educator. Each student comes to KaiPod with the virtual learning program chosen by the family, ranging from a tuition-free public virtual school option to private online options such as Sora Schools or the Socratic experience, to a denominational program if a family wishes. This allows for maximum family autonomy in program decisions, while bringing groups of children together for social and enrichment activities facilitated by the KaiPod educator. Students can attend a few days a week or full time.
KaiPod is expanding to more states this year, including Arizona, where a child can participate in KaiPod part-time for $25/day. If the child was eligible for one of Arizona’s college savings accounts and scholarship programs, or enrolled in a virtual public school, the total cost to attend KaiPod would be minimal. .
KaiPod participated in the prestigious Y Combinator startup accelerator program in Silicon Valley last year and has already raised $1.5 million in venture capital funding. Amar Kumar, founder and CEO of KaiPod, has found that many families who join his program do so because their children thrive on the personalization of online learning, while also wanting daily access to a group of consistent peers and adult mentors.
Kumar believes learning models similar to KaiPod, which bring together the best features of online learning platforms with crucial in-person, human-to-human interaction, are the future of education. “It all starts with students getting very controlled content delivery, something that’s personal to them, with another human, and something that’s delivered in a flexible way,” Kumar told me in a recent interview. “If we can keep these touchstones or pillars in our minds, then any resulting innovations will almost certainly be positive for children.”
Over the past two years, parents have been empowered to take back control of their children’s education and explore or create new models of learning. Many parents left district schools in 2020 for a variety of private education options, including home schooling, and many of them decided not to return. Entrepreneurs continue to invent and innovate, creating new K-12 education solutions that work better for families than older education models. This dynamic cycle of empowerment, exit and entrepreneurship is about to continue and accelerate, expanding education options for more families. Now is the perfect time to be a learner, parent, educator, and entrepreneur.