Tiny Schools: Models of Innovation


There is a proposal going around about a new type of charter school, one that is very low risk and modeled on the 4.0 Schools project in New Orleans, called tiny schools. These are small schools that are started in a library or classroom with volunteer students who are willing to learn. The students can stay or go as they see fit, and those who are attempting to start schools, specifically charter schools, can see what works and what doesn’t ahead of time without investing billions only to have the school fail.

The author, Michael McShane, states:

Think about it: If you are an aspiring charter or private school leader and you want to start a school via conventional means, you’re talking about an organization with a $1 million-plus budget, contracts with 10, 20 or more staff and teachers, the rental or purchase of a large building, and the lives of hundreds of children – and that is just the start. This risk explains why even the supposedly agile and entrepreneurial charter school sector has created applications to open schools that stretch into the hundreds of pages. When we’re talking about that much money and that many people, authorizers want as much assurance as possible that the school is going to work. I don’t blame them.

This solves that problem by being relatively risk-free in terms of cost and effect on student lives. It is a measuring tool that can aid those attempting to start a charter school. Tiny schools can also cater to neighborhoods and students that are typically under-served in public schools.

However, critics tend to point out the fact that these small schools do not address the national problem of millions of students, because they only serve a small population. The critics also argue that AltSchool, a model similar to tiny schools, would only serve the wealthy elite that could afford it and the resources that come with it (business investment, technology investment, etc).

The author points out, though, that much like the inventors in the early 20th century, people tend to criticize innovations without realizing their potential. He states:

We should not be so quick to dismiss “tiny” efforts to rethink schooling. A “tiny” effort in automobiles just made a car that broke Consumer Reports’ rating system. These schools may end up being bigger than we think.


For more information, see Tiny Schools, Big Impact.