In the midst of the culture wars and the whiplash over the executive ordinances of various federal administrations, the battles over schooling seem endless. However, there are some new ways to both lower the temperatures of these fights and improve schooling. “Tailored Education” – a school tailored to meet the needs of families – is growing in the US. By “tailor-made education” I do not mean simply “school choice”, but school experiences that are specifically tailored to the needs and needs of the family and desires of certain families.
An example of this trend is Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), a mechanism that allows parents to use student funding for a variety of providers. Another example are “pandemic capsules” that were specially created to close schools due to COVID-19. Another example of “bespoke education” is hybrid home schools (where students go to school a few days a week and study at home for the remainder of the week).
These institutions try to meet the special needs of families and at the same time to serve as new, small mediation institutions. In my new book, Defining Hybrid Homeschools in America: Little Platoons, I describe some students – Miles, Cecilia, and Vincent – who made their way to these schools for a variety of reasons.
Miles is on the autism spectrum. According to his mother, his freshman year at his local public school had a good experience. The next year he got a new group of teachers who were much less responsive to his needs. They had heard of a local hybrid homeschool that only met once a week and asked parents to do a series of lessons for the rest of the week, which seemed like a much better arrangement to him.
Cecilia’s parents tried to take her to a local charter school but ended up at number 132 on the waiting list. The schools in her area are very large, and Cecilia’s parents were nervous about sending her to a “huge public school,” especially since she was a shy girl, and they knew the local public school culture would not be a good fit for Cecilia . Cecilia entered a nearby hybrid homeschool, and her little brother eventually followed her there.
The public high school Vincent attended has a reputation for being one of the best in the state, and that reputation is backed by high test scores, college acceptances, etc. But his parents were concerned that the family was moving in too many different directions in too large an area. Although Vincent was cautious at first, he was able to settle in academically and socially at his hybrid homeschool.
How yes. Each child, a school election organization, indicates through a series of focus groups that families want a variety of things. As designed, American education does not do a good job of providing these many things. Public schools are generally large and have a philosophical focus in their curriculum. Even if they have smaller programs, these programs all operate within the values of the larger system. But many families want and need something different. Solutions for specific customers are much more desirable in America these days. At the same time, total individual autonomy and atomization prove uncomfortable for most people. We need some form of live community. Hybrid home schools such as the University-Model Schools or the Regina Caeli networks or the many independent schools are excellent examples of civil society coming together to provide specialized services and at the same time create coherent community structures.
The Sequitur Classical Academy in Baton Rouge, for example, is a Christian school that offers classical education where its entire curriculum focuses on “great books, fundamental truths” and “proven structures” that follow the traditional classical model of education. Students are taught at the traditional levels of grammar, logic and rhetoric, and the school encourages the use of Socratic methods. Sequitur is classic, not comprehensive – parents know what to sign up for when they enroll their children. Julian Charter Schools, a network in Southern California, work very differently. As a charter school, its curriculum is secular and focuses on preparing students for “increasingly complex living and working environments in the 21st century”. Julian has several programs for students: they can attend 2-4 days a week as a typical hybrid homeschool student, or they can come in more or fewer days and get the amount of support that suits them from the school. Though most hybrid homeschool tuition fees are a fraction of competing private schools, Julian is free as a charter, and its variety of programs can serve families who might otherwise have trouble following a part-time school schedule.
The way that bespoke education will be successful in a sustainable way is not through more gigantic public or private schools, but through much smaller, more local, more focused new institutions.
It’s easy to identify COVID-19 as a spark for this as we see that full online learning isn’t ideal for every student, but education has been moving in creative directions even before the virus. Technology was already improving remote working (for students and adults), and society was already showing an increasing desire for more personal service in most other areas of life. Americans are trying to dispel these desires for both more responsive services and smaller, more coherent institutions. Parents strive for coherence with regard to morals and culture in a school and with regard to the appropriate academic offer that the child and the family need. Hybrid home schools are becoming a very straightforward way for families to achieve both by combining a tailored approach for academics with closer communities.
Given the opportunity to find or form these communities, many parents report their preference for these bespoke school arrangements. According to the US Census Bureau, the proportion of American students studying at home rose from 5.4 percent in the spring of 2020 (shortly after schools began to close) to 11.1 percent in the fall. While this number is likely inflated for a number of reasons, other surveys also show an increase in support for both full-time homeschooling and hybrid homeschooling after the pandemic. Anecdotally, some hybrid home schools have reported an increase in enrollments and long waiting lists for the coming school year.
One of the great advantages of hybrid home schools is that founders simply don’t have to face the same political, legal, or financial problems as traditional public or private five-day schools. You don’t need government or school approval like charter schools do. Because they are more part-time workers, have fewer staff (sometimes just one full-time employee), and often rent rooms or provide church services, they do not need the financial resources a traditional five-day private start-up school would require (and may require significantly lower tuition fees) .
The way that bespoke education will be successful in a sustainable way is not based on more and more programs being developed in gigantic public or private schools, but on much smaller, more local, more focused (and not comprehensive) new institutions. Like-minded family groups can create and customize these schools to best suit the goals and needs of their families and children. While most of the existing hybrid home schools are religious, there are secular versions as well. When a particular hybrid homeschool does not suit a family’s wishes for their children, a group of families can start a new one. Or families can use them for a while and then move on when their needs change.
Cecilia’s school mentioned above was only eighth grade and she had to leave, but was in a much better position to succeed if she did. Her mother said in high school, “She was a shining star. She won her high school freshman of the year. She’s currently getting A and who knows if that would have happened without the hybrid. “After getting used to it and changing circumstances, Miles finally changed schools. His mother said that she “is really glad we did [attended the hybrid] because it taught him how to learn. “Vincent stayed in his hybrid school until he graduated, and his sisters are still with us. Vincent played basketball and soccer for the school teams. Even though he graduated from one of the best academic public schools in the state, he was still able to get into the state’s flagship university.
Large public or private schools cannot replicate the flexibility that ESAs, Pods, or hybrid home schools offer. They cannot personalize their programs to the same extent while maintaining the little community coherence that many families desire. In the US, hybrid home schools were generally open and functioning (relatively) normally that school year. Most parents are ready for schools to reopen. However, they are not aiming to return to normal business operations. They’re likely to pull their kids out much faster than they have been in the past if things don’t work out well. Paradoxically, they strive for more individualization and more community, and often find both by attending or starting hybrid home schools.