American parents have made it clear over the past two years: they want to be involved in their children’s education. But among those interested in an at-home option, the required time away from work may be too much.
Enter hybrid schools, where students attend physical classes a few days per week and are homeschooled on the other days. Parents get the best of both worlds – and tuition that is often less than half of that of other private school options.
Results from a survey conducted last fall by the National Hybrid Schools Project, which I direct at Kennesaw State University, reveals common characteristics of these schools, including enrollment, tuition and various aspects of their operations. The results represent responses from 75 schools around the U.S.
Hybrid schools are founded in a variety of ways – as collections of full-time homeschoolers who decide to formalize their operations, as creative projects of existing five-day private schools, or even public schools in the form of charter schools.
In many cases, they start as ministries of churches. Church leaders recognize that they have empty classrooms during the weekdays, and they are also seeing a need (especially during the pandemic) for schooling alternatives.
In fact, slightly over 60 percent of schools responding to the Hybrid Schools Project’s survey called themselves “Christian.”
This article will provide some context for who America’s “Christian hybrid schools” are, based on these results.
A snapshot of Christian hybrid schools
Responding Christian hybrid schools represent 18 states, from all regions of the country. Hybrid schools likely exist in every U.S. state in some form, including as Christian schools, though not every state is represented in the results.
They enroll an average of 184 students K-12, from a low of 7 to a high of 1,025. Large schools often operate multiple sessions, using something like a Monday/Wednesday and Tuesday/Thursday schedule to accommodate more students, sometimes doubling enrollment capacity.
The oldest of these schools opened in 1995, and the newest in 2021; as a group their average age is 10 years.
Average annual tuition was reported to be $4,121 per student, though many schools offer sibling discounts even with this relatively low tuition. Physical classes two or three days per week is the most common schedule arrangement.
One of the main reasons tuition can be so low compared to neighboring five-day private schools is that these schools are typically staffed part-time. On average Christian hybrid schools employ 24 teachers and administrators, from a low of four to a high of 82.
Most of the schools do not employ any full-time staff, and only one school employed more than six (this school, an outlier in the data, has 18 full-time employees).
Recognizing the part-time nature of the employees, one can begin to see why launching hybrid schools might be attractive to churches. After personnel, locating facilities are often the biggest hurdle to prospective school founders; renting space from a church is often their solution.
In terms of specific curricula, 23 of the responding schools say they follow a classical curriculum, and 13 report being “regular” or “comprehensive” schools. Another nine call themselves “alternative” schools.
Some states and localities offer school choice programs that can help with the financial aspects of running hybrid schools (“low cost,” after all, does not mean “no cost”). But these schools are, for the most part, relatively self-sufficient financially.
Only five of the schools in the survey report using either Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) or tuition tax credit programs. Five more say state choice programs exist in their areas, but they do not use them.
In other recent academic research, I have found that these schools are actually not clamoring for state help; founders are simply going out and starting up schools, and handling everything on their own. The self-sufficiency, independence and small community-building are aspects that many founders, leaders, and families find attractive about hybrid schools.
Churches are in a unique position to aid this growing, creative model of education across the U.S., whether through starting up schools themselves or by making their facilities available to founding groups who share some aspect of their mission.
Some networks exist to help hybrid schools get started and grow, but a very large percentage of these schools are single, independent startups, existing simply to solve a need in their local communities.
Other details of their operations vary widely from state to state, for example in terms of the need and desire for accreditation, for the classification of students as homeschoolers versus enrolled students, and in other areas. But they tend to face many similar challenges such as teacher recruitment and training, curriculum development and pacing, and at the outset, how to get off the ground.
This survey was the first in what will be a series of surveys documenting and studying the growing hybrid schools movement.
The first annual nationwide convening of hybrid schools – the National Hybrid Schools Conference – was also held recently at Kennesaw State University, hosted by the National Hybrid Schools Project.
The schools represented included private schools, charter schools and conventional public school programs, all sharing their work and learning from each other.
The Project will host another conference in the spring of 2023. We would love to see many more new hybrid schools – including Christian hybrid schools – in attendance in the future.