A fourth option: how #microschools will save our children

It became clear to me during July, when coronavirus cases spiked at precisely the time they told us it would take a break, that school would not start in September. 

Realizing this, I started floating the idea of creating a “microschool,” a concept that sits between two of the most polarizing points on the education spectrum: private school and homeschooling.

Many consider the flight of the rich to private school, combined with the recently uncovered hacking and corruption at elite colleges, as a fundamental breakdown of the fellowship of the American public education system. 

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Every conversation I’ve ever witnessed about homeschooling went to the same place: with people marginalizing it as a wacky, hippie-dippie pursuit that created smart but socially weird kids. 

A “microschool” sits between these two options, because in the model — as defined by me — you have a teacher at your home with multiple students. 

A microschool, by my definition, achieves the following:

  1. You remove the social isolation concern of homeschooling.
  2. You drop the class size dramatically, from the standard 20-30 students down to four to 10.
  3. During a pandemic like coronavirus, I would guess that every logical person of science would state that smaller is safer (you can research this yourself online).
  4. You drop the cost of a private school from $30-50k a year to $5-10k.

As an investor in highly disruptive companies, that last point is the one that got me in hot water with the hysterical Twitter mob this past week. 

In my blunt, capitalist fashion, I tweeted that I was looking for the best teacher for my microschool. I would beat their current compensation and give anyone who referred me this person a $2,000 gift card to UberEats.

As an early investor in Uber, this last part was considered extra elitist to the salty, radical left on Twitter. That contingent doesn’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt, instead, immediately they make everything about class, wealth, politics, identity politics, and generally dunking on anyone who is easy to hate (which, I’m self-aware enough to know, I am). 

So, I wound up on TMZ, the New Republic, and the DailyMail, which is something I never expected in this lifetime, as well as talking with an ABC news reporter. 

Dr. Phil’s producer has asked me to come on (debating that one), and essentially I went viral for 48 hours.

It was a level of attention, for what is a super pragmatic idea, that I didn’t expect, but in reality this flareup feels akin to about 20 minutes and 20 seconds in the life of Kanye West and Trump, respectively. 

The punch line of all of this is that the concerns folks had, that I was “stealing” a teacher from other students, and that this was another example of the growing chasm between the rich and poor, flies in the face of, well, math!

First, 95% of the people applying for the position were out of work. Making this $60-70k position with benefits a net new job created in the world. 

Second, we elected to give 50%+ of the slots in the school to folks who wouldn’t be able to afford private school.

Third, we are currently in public school. Everyone just assumed because I had some success in the second half of my life that I was an elitist in some $50,000 private school — wrong! 

Fourth, and most stunningly, microschools are the opposite of elitist — they are socialist and capitalist at the same time. 

Basic Math:

  1. Ten students
  2. $50,000-$75,000 teacher (all-in cost with benefits, based on the average salary — do some Google searches, teachers are underpaid)
  3. That’s $5,000 to $7,500 per student, which over 40 weeks (200 days) of school is $25 to $37.50 per student, per day

This model assumes the 10 parents manage the teacher, live in a reasonable distance of the school, and at least one of the 10 families has a backyard or extra space for the students. Even if you add $12-$24,000 to the total cost, say if you wanted to rent a space, you are still at 10% to 20% the cost of a private school.

So, today parents have three options:

  1. free public school
  2. homeschooling
  3. $35,000 to $50,000 a year private school 

This changes the competitive landscape for education into four options:

  1. free public school
  2. homeschooling
  3. $5,000 to $7,500 for a microschool
  4. $35,000 to $50,000 a year private school 

Does anyone believe that inserting a 4th option to schooling options is a bad thing?

Only one group seems to think this is a horrible idea, and it’s not parents or students, it’s the teacher’s unions and the administrators at public schools. 

Consider the big picture: 

  1. U.S. outspends every other country in the world on education.
  2. U.S. trails countries that spend less than us.
  3. The average American gets paid ~$25 an hour. 
  4. Based on our average hourly wage in America, sending a child to private school is ~2,000 hours of work.  In this model, sending one child to a private school would eat up a parent’s entire salary.
  5. In the microschool model, a parent would have to work — paradoxically — one hour for every day their child went to school (on average). If you made $10 an hour, obviously you would need to work about three hours.

I’m not an expert on education, but I am an expert at identifying and investing in disruptive models — and microschools feel really, really disruptive in the best of ways.

We all want what is best for all of our kids, and we all know that school ain’t starting in September. 

Given these universal truths, I suggest we all start thinking creatively and share our learnings while ignoring the crazy, vocal minority of virtue-signaling communists who hate innovation and want their lives run by our dysfunctional government … you know, the same government that has us spending more and getting less from education today, and which is performing in last place when it comes to dealing with the crisis. 

Our politicians and institutions are failing us right now, so while we slowly work to fix our broken system my best advice is to be as radically self-reliant as you can — and that’s what #microschools are.

Best, Jason 

PS – There is a pandemic pod hack that drops these numbers down even further, which I will write about tomorrow. 

For now, if you could hit reply (or comment) and give me your most deeply considered feedback on:

  1. How to make a microschool more available to more students. 
  2. How to run a microschool better. 
  3. How you are addressing the 2020/2021 educational year. 

I started a Slack room called #microschools in my podcast’s Slack, which you can join at:

http://thisweekinstartups.com/slack

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