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Group of students working at computers in school

The newest upstart in the changing American education landscape is a small one. In fact, it's called the micro-school, usually tech-centric small schools of fewer than 150 students with students of all ages sharing a classroom.

Some see it as a 21st-century variant of the 19th-century one-room school house, and they are getting a strong push from some very influential people.

One of the most prominent of the new micro-school networks, AltSchool, was founded by a former Google executive and now has six tech-heavy campuses in New York and the Bay Area and is expanding into Chicago.

"The definition of a micro-school is still being hammered out," Education Week reports, "but a consensus seems to be coalescing around a few core details: Schools have no more than 150 students in grades K-12; multiple ages learn together in a single classroom; teachers act more as guides than lecturers; there's a heavy emphasis on digital and project-based learning; and small class sizes, combined with those other factors, make for a highly personalized education."

One of the key traits of a micro-school is mixed-age learning, hence the one-room school house resonance.

"A traditional private school might sit on a sprawling, leafy campus with hundreds, if not thousands, of kids separated into grade levels," Tech Insider reports, "The 'micro-school' model turns this on its head, bringing students of all ages into the same classroom and using technology to cater the curriculum to each child's needs. Teachers serve as facilitators, rather than lecturers, and kids learn through projects, not memorization."

"This is the first innovation in the private system in the U.S. in a long time," Michael Horn, a co-founder of the Clayton Christensen Institute, told Education Week. "As a result, I don't know that we have a great precedent for understanding where it could go or how far-reaching the impact could be if they really drive down costs."

All of this sounds a lot like another unconventional schooling model, the Sudbury model, which the Deseret News National considered last year in a profile of a Chicago Sudbury school.

Sudbury schools are also small, and all ages blend in one classroom. The teachers likewise serve as facilitators, but the projects the kids undertake at Sudbury are strictly student driven. And at Sudbury schools, children who choose to do nothing or play all day are allowed to do so.

The Deseret News noted that Sudbury advocates think "kids learn best when left to pursue their own interests, surrounded by stimulating peers of all ages and supportive adults. Sudbury is not a retreat to a quieter past: it’s a plunge into an improbable parallel universe."

Micro-schools may not be quite this anarchistic, but they are still a dramatic disruption compared to the factory model of education.

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