Seizing a unique moment in individualized education

July 12, 2022

More than 2 million children left the public school system between 2020 and 2022 — and enrollment continues to fall. Multiple media outlets have referred to it as the “mass exodus,” and it points to a significant shift in American education. 

 These children aren’t just leaving school. They’re joining a growing movement of students, families, and educators who are creating and sustaining a truly innovative education marketplace. 

Families are ready to take back control of their children’s education. They’re craving education options that align with their values and best serve their children’s unique passions and abilities. And parents are eager to make this vision a reality.  

When the pandemic turned education on its head, many families were confronted for the first time with the reality that the standardized, one-size-fits-all education model wasn’t good enough, nor was it their only option. This led many to choose an individualized path for their children. Stand Together Trust (STT) partnerships contributed to many of the new education opportunities that became available to students.  

Since April 2020, STT partners have funded 1,700 new education ventures serving more than 5 million students with individualized learning options. The lessons and insights gleaned from some of these innovative ventures could change the trajectory of learning — for individual students who participated and for the future learners of America.  

Making small bets for big transformation 

Radical transformation in anything, especially something as longstanding as the American education system, isn’t going to happen overnight. Experimentation allows education innovators and families to see what is possible and best for each individual student. But finding funding for education ventures that start small and aren’t sure bets can be tricky.  

The VELA Education Fund understands that. Launched jointly by the Stand Together community and the Walton Family Foundation, VELA invests in everyday entrepreneurs – students, parents, educators, and community leaders – who are envisioning new approaches that meet learners’ and families’ needs. These models include homeschool co-ops, microschools, afterschool programs, and much, much more.  

To date, VELA has awarded more than 1,350 grants, totaling $13.5 million. VELA grantees have served over 5.5 million educators and learners in all 50 states, as well as in Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands .Early funding was so promising that VELA launched its third round of funding in March 2022 and, given the extraordinary demand it has seen for its grant programs, aims to award $25 million in grants — a 50 percent increase over Fund II.   

The success stories from VELA speak for themselves.  

Take Bernita Bradley’s story as an example. Before the pandemic, Bernita was watching her high school-aged daughter struggle in Detroit schools. When the shift to at-home schooling diminished her daughter’s motivation further, Bernita knew she had to do something. So, with a $25,000 grant from VELA, she started Engage Detroit, an organization that offers one-on-one coaching for parents new to homeschooling, as well as field trip options and community partnerships to support families. 

Bernita was a trailblazer, with her story and Engage Detroit featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, among other outlets as part of the wave of Black families choosing homeschooling that increased over five times to 16 percent by October 2020. 

VELA is a trailblazing fund, so it’s not alone in the individualized, innovative education funding space. 

The Silicon Schools Fund aims to find the best entrepreneurs in education who are focused on innovation, cluster them in close proximity, provide flexible and patient capital, hold them to high standards, and experiment to determine which models work best. To accomplish this goal, Silicon Schools supports the launch and redesign of schools and new models that are laboratories of innovation — dramatically expanding the number of high-quality schools, spurring innovation, and helping students drive their own learning.  

Already Silicon Schools has helped build a robust education ecosystem across California. Over the past decade, they helped launch and improve 75 schools serving over 30,000 students. These investments have a track record of success supporting new models with early bets like Sal Khan’s online Khan Academy, Summit public charter schools, and Wildflower microschools, among others. Even more importantly, these new models of education are being replicated around the globe. 

Silicon Schools is well on pace to meet its goal of radically improving more than 100 existing schools across California, launching 25 new high-quality schools, and serving 50,000 students over the next five years.  

This is what can happen when funders think outside the box and allow education innovators to do the same.  

Listen to Bernita Bradley tell her story in the video below. And read more or watch more success stories from VELA Education Fund grantees at its site. 

Innovative individualized education for all  

STT partners and funders are investing in education options that think beyond what is currently possible, too. 

 The goal is to reach a tipping point where everyone in America will know someone participating in alternative education models. That will inspire millions of families to start demanding individualized education for their own children. 

Success stories from the past few years indicate we’re well on our way toward that tipping point.  

Take for example. Outschool leverages its online platform to bring on-demand and live classes on a wide range of topics delivered by high-quality, entrepreneurial educators right into students’ homes — at no cost to many lower-income families thanks to Stand Together community partners.  

Rather than just studying a standardized list of courses, students can discover and explore subjects they’re passionate about in a safe, curated online environment — and develop their unique interests and aptitudes.  

Interest in this platform has been overwhelming. To date, Outschool has reached 1 million students with 140,000 courses taught by 10,000 teachers. 

Outschool has used this success to set a goal to reach students for whom this sort of individualized education may be out of reach. So far it has surpassed its goal to provide live instruction for free to 4,000 families, serving over 20,000 students who otherwise may not have been able to access these vital learning experiences.

And not all innovation is happening outside the school system.  

The Mastery Transcript Consortium (MTC) is a growing network of public and private schools developing an innovative digital high school transcript that encourages a more student-centric approach to education grounded in building real skills and enduring competency. MTC’s Mastery Transcript helps learners demonstrate specific skills they’ve acquired and applied — rather than produce a traditional certificate that may or may not demonstrate the skills they’ve mastered — and deliver their Mastery Transcripts securely to college admissions offices and employers. 

MTC currently includes nearly 400 member schools, largely high schools in the United States. More than a third are public schools, including district and charter schools. MTC continues to grow and aims to add more than 200 schools to its roster over the next two years. 

Already, more than 200 colleges have accepted the Mastery Transcript as an alternative to the traditional transcript.  

In the past, educators and the public education system were seen as the experts in a child’s learning. Now, a growing number of parents and families have the confidence to be the primary decision-makers in their children’s education — and for many, this is the very first time. 

There is more hunger than ever before among students, their families, and even educators for individualized education. The moment is ours to seize and, as STT partners have demonstrated, we’re only seeing the beginnings of what is possible for the future of education.  

In the video below, STT Senior Vice President Derek Johnson talks about how programs like MTC can continue to transform the school system as we know it today.