Opinion: Hybrid schools could be America’s future

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Education researcher says more families want flexible learning options

In a guest column, education researcher Eric Wearne makes a case for hybrid schools, which blend at-home and in-classroom learning. Wearne directs the National Hybrid Schools Project at Kennesaw State University, where he is also an associate professor with the Education Economics Center.

Wearne is author of “Defining Hybrid Homeschools in America: Little Platoons.” He served several years as a state-level official at the Georgia Governor’s Office of Student Achievement. He began his career as an English and debate teacher at Duluth High School and holds a doctorate in educational studies from Emory University.

By Eric Wearne

A new survey released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that remote work is here to stay for a large swath of the American workforce. The survey found 65% of companies in the middle market have embraced hybrid work, and 48% of companies have made remote work a permanent option.

With such a dramatic shift in the employment landscape, parents of some students are searching for similar ways to give their children the same flexibility when it comes to education. And the market is responding.

Hybrid schools — or a combination of at-home and in-classroom learning — are starting up across the country from California to Louisiana and from Tennessee to Massachusetts as a way for students to get the best of both worlds when it comes to home learning and being with their peers.

Hybrid schools are more formalized versions of learning pods or homeschool co-ops. They hold classes two or three days a week depending on a student’s grade level and can be spinoffs of existing private schools, ministries of churches, or independent startups. Students work on assignments with their parents’ help the rest of the week.

Credit: Courtesy photo

Credit: Courtesy photo

For many students, hybrid learning can be a wonderful experience. They have additional time to learn about subjects they are interested in, and can read, write, and take tests for their classes on schedules that work better for them and their parents.

Other students attracted to hybrid schools are athletes or those involved in the arts who need flexible time to dedicate to their sport or hobby and then focus on schoolwork at a time that works for them.

Teachers at hybrid schools tend to be part-time. Hybrid schools often don’t have their own large brick-and-mortar buildings.

As small startups, they are a great example of “permissionless education” — an innovation in schooling that is able to happen while avoiding huge political or bureaucratic battles. They are also a school choice option for many middle-class parents that is much more affordable than full-time private school. Tuition at hybrid schools is often half or even a third the cost of five-day-a-week private schools.

There is now even greater interest in hybrid schools because of their flexibility, prompted by the pandemic and immense employee satisfaction with remote and hybrid work. While hybrid schools got their start in the 1990s, interest in these schools has really taken off in the past two years as parents see how they can adapt to a student’s educational needs just as hybrid work fits their employment needs.

A recent national survey conducted by the National Hybrid Schools Project at Kennesaw State University found more than 300 examples of hybrid schools across the country with more being started all the time. Many are independent startups and others are members of national networks such as the University-Model Schools and Aquinas Learning Centers. In metro Atlanta, some of those schools are: St. John Bosco Academy, an independent startup in Cumming; St. John the Baptist Hybrid School in Kennesaw; The King’s Academy in Woodstock; and Atlanta Homeschool in Dunwoody. All are different variations of the hybrid school model.

In past surveys, families choosing hybrid options have said that they value the flexibility of these schools and their schedules. Among their reasons: the ability to visit family more often, having more time for activities such as sports or arts, and simply because the part-time schedule allows families to spend more time together.

In other words, hybrid schools give families “the best of both worlds” between a school community and an improved home environment.

As the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its partners found, the pandemic has been a once-in-a-century event that has changed society dramatically in such a short period of time. Obviously, the rigid structure of a workweek no longer applies.

Parents are now also rethinking the rigid structure of an 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. school day in a classroom. Given the ability of hybrid schools to work with families to meet the needs of their work and personal schedules, it may just be the future of education for decades to come.