Teachers Unions Set Their Sights on Microschools
Kelly Smith is a very nice guy. On his Twitter profile, he describes himself to his 400 followers as a “Physics nerd, family man, tech entrepreneur, working on the future of K-12 education.” After a few years working in the tech industry, he started a coding club for his kids and their classmates and in so doing found a passion for teaching.
Building on the success of his coding club, he decided to start a microschool in his own home in Mesa, Arizona. He wanted students as engaged in their normal schoolwork as they were in his coding club. He convinced six of his friends to “enroll” their children and used online resources and a pedagogical model that focused on student engagement and project-based learning to create a nurturing school environment. He loved it. The kids loved it. Their parents loved it. And he realized he was on to something.
That small group of families in his home became the basis for the Prenda Microschools (if you want the whole story, I spoke with Smith on my podcast Cool Schools earlier this summer). There are now more than 400 such schools, each enrolling between 5 and 10 students in someone’s home, in a public library, or a host of other spaces. Prenda was already growing before the pandemic, but social distancing requirements and lackluster responses by local school districts drove up demand.
This growth put Prenda in the crosshairs of the educational establishment. In a bombshell report in the Wall Street Journal, leaked documents show the opposition research that the National Education Association (NEA) has completed on Prenda and Smith himself, and it is wild. The NEA admits that microschools are popular, that kids learn well in them, that they solve some of the problems that homeschoolers face, and that some of Arizona’s school choice programs “alleviate some equity issues” as lower-income families can participate.
Perhaps more troubling, the dossier also features Mr. Kelly’s address and a picture of his home.
Let’s be clear. While Prenda is growing, and exciting, it still only enrolls around 3,000 students. In Arizona alone, there are almost 1.1 million public school students. That means that the NEA created opposition research on a school network that enrolls less than one third of one percent of Arizona’s students. Its enrollment is a rounding error in the education system, and yet the NEA went through all of this effort to develop a plan to snuff Prenda out, admitting in the process that it is popular because it is good.
I would love to say that I’m surprised by this development, but I’m not. This has been the standard operating procedure for teachers unions for decades. They brook no dissent. They fight hammer and tongs against every potential option that they do not control. And good people like Kelly Smith get caught in the crossfire.
More to the point, does the NEA in Missouri keep dossiers on private school leaders? On charter school educators? Does the union keep pictures of their houses on file? Might be worth asking sometime.