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September 12, 2018

4 min

Mark Holley

We Scrapped Our School Model. Here's Why.

Imagine for a moment a small mom and team that wants to open up a bike shop. They have a great idea, a product that stands out, and they're hungry. They see a need in their community for a more personal bike shop that sells high quality bikes and parts while providing topflight service. They know their business will benefit not just the riders in their area, but also the community at large. They need a business license, so they start by visiting their city hall to fill out an application and get started on the process.

Pretty simple, right? What if Walmart1 (we'll call this Big Box) was the authority that granted business licenses? Changes things, right? Not so simple anymore. Well, that's kind of how it works in California when you want to start a charter school. And if somehow you do get a "license" (a charter), what if the rules kept changing because the Big Boxes that granted the business licenses realized that these mom and pop stores were cutting into their revenue, so they spent countless hours and dollars fighting and trying to close them down?

This is the environment we operate under in California. The rules keep changing due to litigation and legislation, and the ones who get hurt the most are the students and families. And while it's caused us at Method to change our school operating model several times since we opened, it's not why we enacted the biggest change to our model since we opened five years ago.

For 2018-19, and likely beyond, we've gone to a true independent study model. We made this change due to our own research and results because we found that our seat-based students struggled much more than our online students, in spite of the fact we were spending substantially more time and resources on those students. Our model just wasn't addressing those students' needs as effectively as we wanted, and no matter what changes we put in place, our academic results were plateauing, or in some cases declining. Meanwhile, our independent study students were thriving and our enrollment kept growing. We were in a better position to serve those students and set them up for success, which is really what we needed and wanted to do anyway.

Taking a step back briefly...giving all students a change to succeed is what school choice is all about. And being against school choice is being against equal opportunity for all students. School choice is especially important in urban areas where students don't have access to quality school options. Having a choice in education seems like such a simple concept, but it's become somewhat of a "third rail" in education in California and elsewhere. Families want the freedom to choose public schools that work best for their children, but Big Box doesn't. And it's unfortunate that it's such an issue here in California, a state that embraced charters early on and has been at the forefront of school choice for decades now. 5212936307_9a3e702a31_z

In California, the constantly changing and new rules and litigation extend to independent study schools as well. To go back to our Walmart example, what if after allowing mom and pop to open up their awesome bike shop Big Box lobbied the legislature to create laws that only allowed mom and pop to open their bike shop up two days per week, and they could only sell products that Bog Box approved beforehand? Well, you get the idea. Again, this is the environment we operate in here in California. But fortunately, we're in a great position to help our students succeed as an independent study network of schools. Method was built for this.

Our independent study model isn't just online school, though. Students left to wander the online education work alone rarely succeed. But that's not what we do at Method. We think our solution is perfect for home school students, performers, athletes, and really any students who have active interests outside the traditional M-F classroom while getting a full, high-end education. We built our program on these three key components we call the Method Mix: ComicPanel

  1. Unlimited access to teacher instruction, whether it's on-site one-on-one tutoring, web conferences, chats, or calls. We've gone to great lengths to hire the best teachers out there. Our teachers are pros at independent study, and they're by far the best part of our program.
  2. Online courses that were built for today's student. The courses are clear, simple to use, and they work on any device (about 40% of our students access their courses primarily this way). We built SmartFox because there was nothing out there that we wanted our students to use.
  3. "Tiles" learning extensions. Tiles have been the proverbial game-changer for us. Think of them like electives that make school fun, add in tons of social opportunities, and reinforce learning. Some examples of tiles include guitar, comics, robotics, football training, mountain biking, acting, and more.

Also new for 2018-19, we've introduced Educational Enhancement Funds (EEF), which provide students with supplementary home school funds that can go toward activities and supplies they need to make their independent study experience more comfortable and effective. Chat with us in the window below to learn more about EEF, or give us a call.

In short, I leave with this thought I read recently (can't remember where): "The way to good judgement is experience. And the way to experience is bad judgment." At Method, we've made mistakes - and we can't blame them all on the sometimes wonky environment we operate in. But we'll always work tirelessly to provide the best outcomes and experiences for our students, regardless of the hoops we're forced to jump through or the bumps and bruises along the way. Our students are worth it.


1Walmart is used as an example because they're big and recognizable to most readers. In no way is this post intended to imply anything beyond this analogy.

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