The Profound Pluralism of Emergent Education Entrepreneurs
New reports document the rich diversity of nascent education models
We are in a unique inflection point for the future of education where “Better” is no longer the goal. Instead, parents want “Different” educational options and experiences for their children. Public sentiment data shows that parents have deprioritized one-size-fits-all approaches to K-12 education while actively prioritizing attributes that enabled education to be tailored to meet each child’s needs.
Education Entrepreneurs are meeting the challenge to help each child reach their full potential. Stand Together Trust’s partners can best tell the legions of stories about how education entrepreneurs are building a “Different” education system and meeting the moment to provide parents with a rich diversity of education options. Unconventional models are emerging as powerful alternatives to traditional schooling. They are growing across the U.S. through the collective scaling of many different education opportunities where entrepreneurship grows through imitation, replication, and collaboration, creating a thriving permissionless education sector that is a beautiful mosaic of new education possibility.
Vela Education Fund
First, the Vela Education Fund’s Open for Business: The Economics of Everyday Entrepreneurs in Unconventional Education explores the operational side of unconventional education and demonstrates how the emerging and thriving “permissionless education” sector is incredibly creative, resourceful, and responsive to families. VELA's community is thriving, with over 2,000 investments made and $24 million disbursed since 2019, reaching more than 6.5 million learners and families. These numbers reflect not only the scale of impact but also the promising growth of unconventional education.
The education entrepreneur’s in Vela’s survey report a variety of education models reflecting a new more responsive education pluralism that tailors education to each family’s needs.
The Vela report reveals several key highlights:
Inclusivity: Unconventional education is for everyone. The report reveals that 93% of grantees serve low-income or historically underserved learners and families, and 38% have a core focus on these populations.
Entrepreneurial Growth: These learning enterprises are often young but ambitious, with 95% intending to grow. The majority (56%) are nonprofits, while 28% operate as for-profit entities. A substantial number of these institutions were founded recently, reflecting the dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit in the sector
Resourceful Funding: Despite minimal external funding, entrepreneurs are building their organizations from the ground up. The survey finds that 84% earn revenue from participants (e.g., tuition/fees, selling products or services), and almost 70% report that these fees are a primary source of revenue. They manage to keep their operating costs low by relying on volunteers and sharing building spaces.
Community-Responsive Funding Models: Entrepreneurs are innovatively tailoring their funding models to their communities and use a wide range of tuition and fee structures to make their learning environments more accessible. They balance the concerns of sustaining themselves, providing a flexible and high-quality learning environment, and ensuring access to those with financial challenges. These everyday entrepreneurs leverage diverse fee structures, making available a range of discounts, scholarships, and low-cost/free options. Many use sliding scales based on family income and honor systems, and they’re willing to negotiate and barter for a lower price in exchange for goods and services.
Spending Thoughtfully: These models often use low-cost or free resources and embrace volunteers and other community-based resources. These models keep tuition low especially in contrast to more traditional public and private schools.
The permissionless innovation of grassroots civic entrepreneurs at the heart of this dynamism is creating new K-12 sector of community learning options to help young people flourish as adults.
National Microschooling Center
American Microschools: A Sector Analysis by the National Microschooling Center provides a complementary perspective on the rise of microschools and educational entrepreneurship. This new original analysis by the National Microschooling Center examines 100 current microschools around the country, and 100 prospective microschool leaders working to open to serve students, from 34 different states. The report confirms many of the findings of the Open for Business survey, with education entrepreneurs primarily using tuition and fees for service to sustain their business models with a wide variety of models, locations, and flexible schedules.
A key finding of the report, is that a significant proportion of microschool founders and lead instructors have backgrounds as currently or formerly licensed educators. Specifically, 70.2% of current leaders in the microschooling sector are currently or formerly licensed educators.
This trend suggests that many educators are leveraging their professional expertise and experience to innovate in the education sector and launch a multitude of educational models and tools.
The report also finds that microschools are innovating with school day and week structures. While 54% operate full-time, 46% offer some sort of hybrid or part-time schedule, aligning closely with the preferences of a significant proportion of parents who desire hybrid schedules for their children
Similarly, EdChoice’s recent report, Surveying Educational Entrepreneurs: The Headwinds and Tailwinds to Building New Educational Enterprises conducted in partnership with Hanover Research, surveyed 59 educational entrepreneurs involved in various aspects of education, from creating new schools with innovative learning models to crafting new curricula and tools, and even recruiting talent.
A striking finding was that most educational entrepreneurs invest their personal funds into their projects. Interestingly, funding sources varied based on income. Lower-income respondents (earning less than $50,000 per year) were more likely to receive funds from tuition, friends and family, philanthropies, accelerators, and community sources, while higher-income respondents (earning more than $100,000 per year) were more likely to secure funding through corporate partnerships, sponsorships, venture capital firms, and business loans.
The report also found that the top three barriers identified by these entrepreneurs were a lack of funding and resources, issues with public perception, and a lack of physical infrastructure. Additionally, funding, state regulations, and marketing/communications expertise emerged as the most influential barriers that educational entrepreneurs face
It's crucial to consider not just what barriers entrepreneurs face but also where and when they encounter them. This suggests that solutions to these barriers might need to be as varied and customized as the entrepreneurs themselves.
Overall, these reports portray a dynamic and promising sector, with the potential to transform education by offering diverse and innovative solutions to meet the varied needs of students and families.
National Hybrid Schools Conference
Another recent indicator of the growth of the “permissionless education” sector, is Eric Wearne’s recent sold-out National Hybrid Schools Conference hosted by Kennesaw State University’s Education Economics Center at Coles College of Business, which offered a glimpse into the future of education. The conference brought together educators, parents, and entrepreneurs who are pioneering hybrid homeschooling models.
The conference highlighted the growing popularity of these models, which offer greater flexibility, personalization, and parental involvement. It also underscored the role of educational entrepreneurs in driving this trend toward profound pluralism in education. As Edchoice’s Mike McShane said in his on-point Forbes column about the conference, Hybrid Schooling, Taylor Swift, And Last Storm Problems:
Confident Pluralism is alive and well, as well. School leaders with vastly different missions and values sat together and supported and celebrated each other’s work. Conservative and progressive, religious and non-religious, public and private, no one was ever asked to minimize what they believed. Instead, conference participants evinced respect for people who thought differently and defended their right to do so.
Arizona Innovation Hub
Finally, as a state-based example of how education entrepreneurship is growing, and for anyone wanting to take the leap to education entrepreneurship in Arizona, this week Jenny Clark (Love your school) has launched The Arizona Innovation Hub to nurture, elevate, and boost the supply of innovative learning providers in Arizona
If you want to stay engaged and continue to follow more of these amazing stories of profound pluralism in the emergent “permissionless education” sector sign up or follow these Stand Together community and partner resources:
Sign up for Stand Together’s education newsletter Transforming Education.
Sign up for the Vela Education Fund newsletter to learn more about their trust-based education philanthropy and inspiring education entrepreneur community.
Follow Kerry McDonald for the best and latest stories, podcasts, and conversations about education entrepreneurship.
Sign up for Eric Wearne’s hybrid homeschooling substack: Restarting School.