When Ben Ashfield and Tammy Tiranasar couldn’t find their preferred educational environment for their two younger children, they decided to build it. Ben works in advertising and Tammy is an artist, but first and foremost they are entrepreneurial parents who want the best for their children. Last fall, the couple took over a vacated classroom space in Mountainside, New Jersey, and created The Village Electric as a full-day, colearning center for local children ages two to twelve, open five days a week. They launched with 45 kids and several teachers.
This year, their program continues to thrive, but Ben and Tammy aren’t content with creating just one alternative learning model that satisfies their family’s needs. They want their space to become an incubator for many other entrepreneurial parents and teachers who wish to build microschools and colearning communities of their own.
West Virginia has experienced a dramatic expansion of educational freedom over the past year, from the state legislature passing a near-universal Education Savings Account (ESA) program, called the Hope Scholarship, to loosening state compulsory school attendance laws for participants of learning pods and microschools.
When Elon Musk created a small school for his children and some of his SpaceX employees on the company’s California campus, he created a spark that could just now be catching on in other workplaces across the country.
In a 2015 interview about the school, the billionaire inventor said: “The regular schools weren’t doing the things that I thought should be done. So I thought, well, let’s see what we can do.” A year earlier he had pulled his boys out of an elite private school in Los Angeles and launched Ad Astra, a project-based school with no grade levels, no mandatory classes, and an emergent curriculum.
Senior Education Fellow at the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) Kerry McDonald told The Star News Network the time is ripe in America for greater innovation and entrepreneurship in providing new education models for parents exiting the government school system.
Many parents got an up-close look at what their children are learning in public schools for the first time during the pandemic school closures and subsequent remote learning, leading them to consider education alternatives.
School closures and district struggles to provide adequate remote learning platforms for students have led parents, and some teachers, to think outside the box to create their own private “microschools” that provide individualized learning and flexibility.
In late summer of 2020, as many school districts wrestled with reopening amid government-imposed mandates and teacher union demands, Jason Bedrick, director of policy at EdChoice, and his colleague, fellow Matthew Ladner, prepared a report at Heritage.org that explained the concept of microschools.
Teachers across the country are feeling burned out and depleted, particularly as school coronavirus policies and staffing shortages make their jobs more difficult. According to a survey by the RAND Corporation, almost one-quarter of teachers planned to leave the profession in 2021, and teachers experienced higher rates of work-related stress and depression than other adults.
A recent letter from teachers and staff at a small Vermont public elementary school to their superintendent and school board members echoes the feelings of many public school personnel. “Everybody is stepping up to try to do what is asked of them; everybody is feeling inadequate, exhausted, and defeated much of the time,” wrote educators at the Ottauquechee School in Hartford. “Colleagues are questioning whether changing professions is in their best interest.”