Kerry McDonald is a Senior Education Fellow at FEE and author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom (Chicago Review Press, 2019). She is also a regular Forbes contributor. Kerry has a B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College and an M.Ed. in education policy from Harvard University. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and four children.
Back to School Alternatives
There's a growing hybrid homeschooling model of learning that uses homeschooling platforms as a springboard for innovation in education.
Back-to-school time conjures images of classroom lectures, worksheets, homework, tests and grades. But for students at Dida Academy in Brooklyn, New York, there won’t be any of those things when it opens for the season next month. That’s because Dida runs as a self-directed learning center that offers young people ages 11 and up the opportunity to pursue their own self-chosen projects, in collaboration with peers and adult mentors. Part of the growing hybrid homeschooling model of learning that uses the homeschooling platform as a springboard for education innovation, Dida opened in the fall of 2017 as a schooling alternative for teens seeking a more personalized, less standardized learning environment.
According to Dida’s cofounder, Danielle Denver, the hybrid homeschooling model offers maximum freedom and versatility for young people and their families, enabling students to attend from two days a week up to five days if they choose. “I love the homeschooling framework,” Denver told me, “because it allows us to unbundle different educational services and have an à la carte structure that works well for families. It also acknowledges the important role that parents play in their children’s upbringing.”
Most of Dida’s students previously attended local public schools but were unhappy with the school environment, whether it was due to bullying, anxiety, boredom or a general dissatisfaction with conventional schooling. This account matches national data on the country’s nearly two million homeschoolers whose parents cite “concern about the school environment” as a top motivator for pursuing the homeschooling option.
Denver explains that because all Dida students are registered as homeschoolers, they are not tied to a traditional school schedule or curriculum. These adolescents can spend part of their time at Dida and part of their time taking other classes throughout the city, participating in apprenticeships, attending community college courses or traveling with their families. “We had one student who traveled for several months last year with his mother who is an artist, and another prospective student this year who spends part of the year in their native country,” says Denver. “We prorate tuition in these situations, and our families love the flexibility.”
Indeed, the idea that children and families must stay tied to an arbitrary school calendar that can halt mobility can be limiting in an increasingly global society. Hybrid homeschooling models like Dida offer an alternative to the rigidity of conventional schooling, while providing support and structure to families who otherwise may not consider the homeschooling option. Dida operates as a private, non-profit organization with tuition that is significantly lower than most typical private schools in New York City, but hybrid homeschooling exists in the public sphere as well.
In California, Da Vinci Connect is a publicly-funded but privately run K-8 homeschool-charter school hybrid program that enables young people to attend classes two days a week, while homeschooling on the remaining days, often with community supports. This approach can make homeschooling more accessible to more families, including single and working parents. Parents must adhere to state curriculum standards and testing requirements, but they retain much autonomy.
For Samantha Barnes, cofounder and CEO of Raddish, a fast-growing children’s cooking club with 40,000 monthly subscribers, Da Vinci Connect gives her the freedom to build her business while granting her children, ages 9 and 7, the opportunity to learn in a more tailored, less regimented way. A former public school teacher, Barnes says hybrid homeschooling offers the best of both worlds. “It’s a brilliant model,” she told me in an interview. “It gives the kids the flexibility to pursue their interests with amazing teachers through project-based learning at the charter school, and also engage with material and experiences that they are really excited about at home.” Da Vinci Connect is widely popular throughout Los Angeles, with a waiting list of parents seeking spots for their children.
Hybrid homeschooling programs like Dida Academy and Da Vinci Connect help to blur the lines between homeschooling and schooling, and offer a prototype for reimagining education beyond the conventional classroom. As these hybrid models expand across the country, more families may have more back-to-school alternatives to choose from in the coming years. Denver is hopeful about the future of Dida Academy in particular, and of hybrid homeschooling more generally. “I am excited that families are considering the possibility that other learning arrangements can exist,” she says.
There's a growing hybrid homeschooling model of learning that uses homeschooling...