Change seems to be the only constant in 2018. Rapid technological advances, shifting global perceptions of social and political life, and an economy that rewards innovation and entrepreneurship are all contributing to an atmosphere of disruption.
But during this time of accelerating change and innovation, one fundamental thing has not kept pace—our education system.
Our current system of education—with age-segregated groups, big buildings full of identical classrooms, tight lines of desks, and established ways of teaching subjects year after year—was designed during the industrial era. The goal of this assembly-line style of education was to produce students who would transition easily from school to factory.
The system was not designed to help students learn the skills and attitudes that prepare people for life in the 21st century. Education has to shift from the institutional delivery model of the industrialized age to an individual model for the information age.
Micro schools are the education change we need.
There is a growing movement of educators, parents, and entrepreneurs who are re-thinking education. Micro schools, small scale schools of 150 students or less that are focused on highly personalized education, offer a new approach, one that is focused on building skills in students, not simply on transmitting content to them.
Here are five reasons why micro schools matter in 2018:
They teach students to think deeply and creatively.
Most research out there suggests that traditional high schools are not preparing students for college or for a career. As today’s young people enter the workforce, they are facing unprecedented challenges and disruptions. According to the World Economic Forum, by 2020, “more than a third of the desired core skill sets of most occupations will be comprised of skills that are not yet considered crucial to the job today.” Young people need fundamental skills and attitudes that transcend specific topics and specific skill-sets in order to navigate a world that regularly makes whole industries obsolete.
Our high schoolers need to know how to learn, how to stay curious, and how to think critically through tough problems. These types of skills are only learned through deep, focused effort, something which eludes many of us in the era of social media and digital interruption.
Micro schools are able to reconsider the schedule of the school day completely. Instead of shuffling teens from class to class based on a predetermined system of bells and alarms, many micro schools offer teachers and students the freedom to figure out how deep learning can take place effectively and consistently.
At Blyth-Templeton, we offer two courses per term in a four term school year. This means that our students are spending time immersed in deep exploration and complex projects, the perfect antidote to the distracting influence of our tech-heavy culture and much more representative of the collegiate experience. Our system allows students to dive deep, spending as much time on a topic or problem as they want or need before moving on.
They help students learn agency and ownership.
In many micro schools, the emphasis on personalized education means that learning is primarily student-driven. At Blyth-Templeton, teachers serve as guides to facilitate and focus the exploration and discussion of a topic, but students must do the work themselves. Once students understand that they are not supposed to be passive recipients of digested knowledge, they become active participants in their learning, absorbing new skills and knowledge through their own agency and effort.
This sense of agency is transformative for teenagers. Parents often comment on how this sense of ownership in their teenagers translates to other areas of life. Students become their own advocates, willing to speak up for themselves and others in order to express their identity and needs.
They are training grounds for empathy and community.
It’s no secret that the world needs people who can model healthy inclusion and who are able to appreciate and respect a diversity of perspectives. An inclusive learning environment offers its students a place where they can comfortably express their individuality while still feeling a strong sense of belonging.
The smaller-scale environment of micro schools offers students a chance to see their personal role in the creation of a warm, inclusive community more clearly. Teenagers are immersed in project-based learning and Socratic discussion with other students and are given plenty of one-on-one attention from teachers. In this personalized learning environment, teens learn to collaborate effectively, to empathize with, and to respect the diverse perspectives of the ages, races, and genders of people around them.
When students know each other personally and are used to working together to reach common goals, there is little room for bullying or stereotyping. Developing these healthy social habits in high school can change the course of a teenager’s life.
They use resources responsibly and efficiently.
The 21st century has ushered in an era of increased social consciousness about the consumption of resources. Individuals and organizations are adopting ride-sharing, solar power, and other initiatives in an effort to re-think how we consume energy and other natural resources. Blyth-Templeton and other micro schools are revolutionizing how education takes place and are also offering a model for sustainability.
Instead of building new campuses or purchasing existing school structures and then heating, cooling, and maintaining them, Blyth-Templeton Academy rents existing space from the community around it. Community centers, office buildings, art museums, and co-working spaces, like The Yard in Eastern Market, offer unlimited places for our students to stretch their minds in classes while learning about their community at the same time.
Blyth-Templeton also takes advantage of online textbooks and other open educational resources available through the internet. This keeps families from spending lots of money on textbooks, and it allows teachers to pick and choose the best learning opportunities from different sources.
Who needs a big school building when the whole city is at your fingertips? This is the beauty of place-based learning.
One of the other big advantages of place-based learning is that it reduces operating costs significantly, which leads us to the final reason why micro schools are an important innovation in 2018.
They are accessible to all families.
Micro schools are challenging societal perceptions about how much education ought to cost. In the D.C. area, tuition costs at private high schools average around $27,000 a year and top $48,000 at the most expensive options. The amount spent per student in local public schools is comparable. For many families, the idea of affording private education for their child is laughable. Because micro schools intentionally operate at a small scale and use the resources available in the community as much as possible, they are able to provide challenging academic environments that are much more within the financial reach of families of all socio-economic backgrounds.
At Blyth-Templeton, we’re proud to offer an education that rivals or surpasses other private schools in value, but at a price point that opens the door to families across the economic spectrum.
We are entering a new era in education, and micro schools are at the heart of this transformation. Micro schools are offering environments where students drive their own learning, learn lifelong skills, and build inclusive communities that are conscious of the community around them. These schools are preparing students to be the humane, curious, innovative, thoughtful, and creative people that the 21st century world so desperately needs.