Next Up Blog

While schools and districts are trying to sort out when and how they will be able to open, a different model for schooling is emerging that just might be a right answer for many families. Though microschooling is not a new concept, it is one that many parents might not be familiar with. 

MicroschoolingNV.org is a new initiative that is building a dynamic ecosystem of diverse microschooling opportunities in Nevada, beginning with the Greater Las Vegas Microschooling Collaborative.

Microschooling is an updated version of the one-room schoolhouse. It offers flexibility in both core content and specialized learning. Microschooling offers a solution, often a short- or medium-term solution, to families who want something different. We are working to incubate a network of microschools across the valley during 2020 — take our Microschooling Interest Survey to see where you might fit in!

Microschooling succeeds with flexibility, not tied to any strict definition. Often a microschool serves ten students or less, when housed in a family home, or up to 25 students when located in a dedicated facility. 

Costs can remain relatively low, depending on setting, teacher arrangement, device needs, and curricular choices.

Microschools often serve students of different ages in the same setting. 

A microschooling network can be fluid, so that students can move between microschools depending on circumstances or interest. A “digital backpack” can allow a student to transfer relatively seamlessly and without lost learning time.

A family may choose to utilize microschooling as a “for now” solution, say as a reaction to an unsatisfactory circumstance at their previous school, such as a bullying situation.

Instruction in microschooling is driven by the needs of the learners in both core and specialized areas. In the established, and flourishing, microschooling ecosystem that the Greater Las Vegas Microschooling Collaborative envisions, students and families will have the fluidity to move between a variety of programs available for both core subjects and specialized learning. 

This will apply to specialized learning as well. If a parent is looking for an arts microschooling experience one year for their child, and then during the course of the year the child’s interests sway more to science, the student can be effortlessly transferred to a new microschool, with progress and individualized learning plans following the student to the new location.

Microschools offer temporary or long-term solutions, depending on what families are looking for. This makes it an appealing option for families that might be struggling with bullying, or feel that the assigned teacher at their child’s current school is perhaps not the best match for their child and want a temporary, one-year solution. 

Look for Part II – Microschooling: Homeschool Co-op, Private School, or Public/Public Charter School?

With scary uncertainties abounding across the landscape of American schooling, there can be no understating the importance of trust as a foundational value in education.

The certainties offer little more comfort themselves. Among them: the work of education before us will be challenging for all involved. With resources scarce, fears persistent, and frustrations lurking behind corners, temptations to succumb to distrust will present themselves often.

Earning and maintaining the trust of our younger generation must be a priority if our education system, among our many societal systems, is to succeed under the likely circumstances of the years to come. 

Ella Baker, one of the American civil rights movement’s great heroes, embodied a leadership with much to offer the leaders who will tackle these challenges.

Many schools teach that the civil rights movement in the United States began with Rosa Parks’ defiant action in December of 1955, which led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott.  We know that the crucial foundational work began much earlier. 

Miss Baker spent most of the 1940s as a field organizer, and as Director of Branches, for the NAACP.  She became a force for her ability and commitment to “transform the local branches” into “centers of sustained and dynamic community leadership.”

In 1960, her adamance that the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, of which she was an instrumental creator, remain a student-run organization was a crucial element of her leadership for its founding. “The major job was getting people to understand that they had something within their power that they could use, and it could only be used if they understood what was happening,” she later told an interviewer.

Ella Baker approached building trust as a no-nonsense business. “You don’t start with what you think. You start with what they think,” she observed. “You start where the people are…. If you talk down to people, they can sense it. They can feel it. And they know whether you are talking with them, or talking at them, or talking about them.”

The impact of her leadership on those she worked to support, especially through the challenging ordeals of the SNCC’s work, was profound. Freedom Rider Diane Nash described, “So very often, she was the person who was able to make us see, and work together. She really strengthened us.”

Ella Baker was a leader who was always a teacher, who imparted the knowledge and information to equip new, local leaders to succeed.  “My basic sense of it has always been to get people to understand that, in the long run, they themselves are the only protection they have against violence or injustice… they cannot look for salvation anywhere but to themselves.”

Many with whom I have had video meetings throughout this crisis may have noted the photo of Ella Baker above me on my office office wall. This constant reminder of her magnificent spirit inspires and informs my every workday.

As with many great leaders throughout history, her leadership was multi-dimensional and self-sacrificing such that it defies succinct summary.  Nonetheless, as we as a community immerse ourselves into what seems the second half of this pandemic crisis, mindful as we are that second halves are frequently the more dangerous half of a crisis, we must respect the power of trust to both drive success and make it easier to attain.  

And we have had few, if any, leaders whose work offers more to learn about the business of building trust than Ella Baker.

Please let me know if you’d like to discuss Ella Baker’s leadership and the value of trust with you or your team.

As Nevada transitioned into distance learning, many of our state’s teachers worked tirelessly during the last months of school, ensuring that they were in contact with their students. There were phone calls to parents that frequently took place outside of normal school hours, going over lessons, explaining how to access online materials, how to login to virtual classrooms and sometimes, just checking on families, finding out if their students had food to eat and an adequate place to do their schooling.

The relationships that teachers build with their students and families are an important part of schooling. This is reflected in EdChoice’s Public Opinion Tracker, launched earlier this month, which shows us that when asked how much trust Nevadans place in teachers to make good educational decisions, only 7% indicated a lack of trust, showing that Nevadans do trust teachers to make good choices for education. This compares to the 36% of Nevadans polled that indicated an absence of trust when asked how much trust they place in school district superintendents, and 31% that answered the same for school boards.

Trust in teachers, and building that good rapport, also translates into the satisfaction that parents feel with their schools. EdChoice’s April 2020 Gen Pop National Polling Presentation shows that nationally, 59% of all adults are very satisfied with their children’s experiences with religious, parochial private schools compared to just 33% of adults who are very satisfied with their children’s experiences with public district schools inside their school district.

This aligns with the Nevada K-12 & School Choice Survey published by Nevada Action for School Options and EdChoice in March of 2019. This survey shows us that 73% of school parents ranked their charter school as an A or B school. Only 34% of public district schools ranked their school as an A or B school.

Nevadans want to choose where to send their children to school, and Nevadans want to send their students to private schools. When asked what school they would select for their children, if transportation and financial costs were not factors, 45% of all Nevadans that participated would select a private school for their child, compared to the 31% that would select a public district school. 

Breaking this down even further into subgroups, this compares to the 2019 Nevada K-12 & School Choice Survey which showed us that 48% of Nevada Hispanics and 34% of Nevada African Americans would select private schooling for their child if transportation and financial cost were of no concern. 

EdChoice has done a thorough and thought provoking job with their opinion tracker. In What You Need to Know About the EdChoice Public Opinion Tracker Paul DiPerna breaks down the goals for the opinion tracker, as well as how to find and navigate the results. It is worth checking back in frequently for their monthly poll updates.

With most Nevada students missing out on learning significant amounts of their grade-level content this school year, how can standardized testing hold the most useful value next year, and beyond?  

And if some real amount of rolling school closures are likely next school year and beyond, as many experts predict, are our present systems for measuring student learning the tools we need?

Since Governor Sisolak announced that all K-12 schools in Nevada would be closed beginning March 16, Nevada school districts and public charter schools have undertaken widely-varying distance learning plans, with varying degrees of success. So have private schools.

According to the latest national survey by Education Week, students are on average receiving three hours of instruction per day in recent weeks, while students in higher-poverty schools receive closer to two. The same survey of teachers found that one in four students have been “essentially truant,” not participating in distance learning plans. 

Whatever bad news this narrative holds for student learning seems far worse when viewed through a prism of student equity.  Prior to this crisis, half of Nevada’s eighth-grade students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches through the National School Lunch program scored “Below Basic” – the lowest score given on the National Assessment of Educational Progress – in math, and 40 forty percent did so in reading. Both rates are about twice those of their classmates who are not eligible for the program. 

With standardized testing having been mostly abandoned for this school year, how can we track progress and equity next year? U.S. Secretary of Education DeVos announced in late March that her agency was granting waivers from federal standardized testing requirements for the 2019-20 school year for states unable to provide the assessments due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevada quickly applied for, and received, such a waiver.

So what should standardized testing look like next year?  States’ accountability plans, including Nevada’s, will need to be substantially adjusted if they are to remain meaningful in the post-COVID landscape.

Some federal officials have suggested states should administer standardized tests twice next year – at the beginning and end of the school year – to more precisely track academic growth.

This approach seems problematic for several reasons. The financial costs of the additional testing would sap crucial education dollars at the worst possible time as tax revenue projections remain dire. Such a plan would also carry steep educational costs in lost instructional time.

And if Nevada were to administer our Smarter Balanced Assessments this fall, given that it generally has taken some five months after students take the test before results are posted for families and schools to see, how useful would these results be to support student learning?

A more useful approach would be to rely on varied, valid measures of the academic growth of individual students over time, ensuring that each assessment adheres to consistent guidelines for inclusion and fidelity. One crucial lesson states learned in their transition from the pre-No Child Left Behind era was that for schooling to be equitable for all students, all students must be included in accountability systems, so that every child’s test scores matter equally (appropriate assessment accommodations for learners with special needs are also essential).

A range of such growth measures are already being utilized in Nevada schools.  A year ago, the Clark County School District expanded its administrations of the NWEA MAP growth assessments for grades K-8.  Various other norm- and criterion-referenced assessments from different publishers, when administered to all students according to prescribed guidelines, can be used to reliably produce valid measures of the academic growth of individual students over time, while also providing timely, actionable information on student learning to help teachers guide interventions and supports.

Varied, valid measures of student growth may well represent the most essential element of school accountability in the post-COVID education landscape. Students will arrive at the first day of school next year, whenever that occurs, with wider disparities in grade-level content mastery than ever.  Educators broadly expect they will be confronting a substantially more severe “summer slide” of learning loss as a result of pandemic. 

Given our new educational realities, measuring and supporting academic growth for all students will be more important when schools return than ever before. Our school accountability systems should be adjusted to reflect this brave new landscape.

Two of the nation’s most successful charter networks, Summit Public Schools and Success Academy, have taken the school closures due to COVID-19 and turned it into an opportunity to support students, teachers, and families, with both strategies that already existed in the school, and new approaches. As we move forward with planning the upcoming school year, reviewing what some of the nation’s most exemplary schools offered and had success with this spring is an important aspect of planning.

Summit Public Schools, which consist of 11 schools in the California Bay Area and Washington’s Puget Sound, have experienced success because the schools’ existing model was relatively easily adapted for distance learning. In 2013, Summit implemented a purposeful blended-learning model that equipped their students with tools to succeed and focused on six core aspects of student learning. One of Summit’s six core aspects of student learning is personalized-learning time. This personalized-learning time is online and is facilitated by the Summit-developed Personalized Learning Plan. This tool allows teachers, students, and parents to work together. It also offers the crucial element of immediate feedback, which students receive and use to advance their learning without delay. 

The personalized-learning plans include the use of technology. Summit’s purposeful use of technology has created an environment where the learning that takes place is both self-paced and self-directed, and includes a teacher facilitating the learning.

In a recent blog post for the Center for Reinventing Public Education (CRPE), McKittrick discussed how Summit Atlas, in West Seattle, has taken its personalized learning one step further by offering families four different paths for their child’s education during distance learning. These paths allow students options ranging from taking a pause to accelerating learning during this time. McKittrick and her son chose the plan that allows them to stay on track. This plan has her son attending school from 8:20am-3:20pm.

Summit Atlas holds daily synchronous instruction, and also uses face-to-face time to have mentor teachers check-in with students regarding anything that may be hindering learning, such as a lack of food or other resources. Diane Tavenner explains the value of the mentor in her book, Prepared What Kids Need for a Fulfilled Life, “Each mentor has an individual relationship with each mentee, but they also lead a group that spends lots of time together. They are essentially the nuclear family for each student in the Summit community. We are very careful in selecting  groups that are heterogeneous, balanced by gender, race, academic skill, and economic background.”

This face-to-face time allows teachers to discuss assignments with students and offer valuable feedback. Teachers hold regular face-to-face meetings with parents as well. These check-ins with students and families are held multiple times throughout each day. During the synchronous instruction time, students get the opportunity to interact with each other, which is beneficial for the student to continue to develop social-emotional skills. 

Another of the nation’s most celebrated charter school networks, Success Academy Charter Schools, which operates 45 charter schools in New York, is holding high expectations for their staff and students. Success Academy is using this period of remote learning to reorganize teacher roles. CRPE’s Brian Wilson explains here that, “one teacher in each grade—the most engaging and inspiring, the clearest, perhaps the funniest—will be selected to deliver the lessons via video calls in each subject area to all students in the grade.” 

The idea of reorganizing teacher roles in order to allow for more students to be impacted by one teacher is not a new idea. Emily Ayscue Hassel and Bryan C. Hassel explained here that, “Teacher effectiveness has the largest impact of school effects on student learning…” If teacher effectiveness has the largest impact, and teachers are in short supply, it makes sense to take the most effective teacher and have that teacher instructing larger groups. This allows the reach of one effective teacher to grow. Instead of sticking with the teacher/student combinations that were assigned at the start of the brick-and-mortar school year, all students now have the ability to experience being taught by highly-effective teachers.

The other teachers that are not instructing large groups of students still have important roles to fill. At Success these teachers are able focus on student-created content. This allows them to work one-on-one with students that need help understanding concepts being taught and also provide valuable feedback in a smaller setting. The teachers work together as a team to plan and trouble-shoot. 

Success still maintains reading as its first priority. Elementary students are required to read 15 books a week, and listen to another 15 books each week. Though libraries are currently closed, Success students look to digital titles available online from public libraries. Students are only allowed to listen to books using Audible, Overdrive, and Tumblebooks. 

We don’t know what school will look like next year, but we do know that now is the time to create plans that can provide the highest level of education possible for students during uncertain times. Schools in Nevada, and all over the country, have the opportunity to learn from how other schools responded this spring, and what they offered their students, in order to put in place a plan where every child in Nevada can receive a quality education that prepares them for the future.

CRPE has compiled a database of district responses to COVID-19, including resources the school has offered, feedback that is being given, and if teacher check-ins are happening. This database is an informative resource that CRPE is continually updating. It includes 82 districts that were selected for range in geography and size, serving close to 9 million students.