James Madison Institute
The Wave of the Future Why 'Micro' Education Merits Greater Attention from Policymakers

William Mattox | Aug 15, 2016 | Policy Brief

When teen golfer Abbey Carlson speaks of “flight time,” she could just as easily be talking about the timespan one of her drives stays in the air as she could the aviation schedule for her next solo excursion in the plane she helped build.

Carlson, you see, is a 2016 graduate of an innovative “school of the future” in Central Florida that has offerings in both golf and aviation. Yet, the “school of the future” tag probably has more to do with the school’s unique structure than it does the diverse array of courses and extracurricular activities that helped Carlson land a full scholarship to Vanderbilt University.

To understand this structure, think college – not high school. Carlson took classes three days a week instead of five. She had friends who took a number of courses at the school, and others enrolled in just one course. Some of Abbey’s classmates studied at her campus; others learned at one of the school’s two other locations in Central Florida. 

All of this flexibility perfectly suited a competitive golfer like Carlson, who often plays in weekend tournaments that require Friday travel. And Carlson believes her high school experience will help ease her transition to Vanderbilt’s School of Engineering. 

“I’ve learned how to study outside the classroom and to be really good at time management,” she says. 

Not surprisingly, Carlson says many of her conventionally-schooled peers were “very jealous” of the scheduling freedom that enabled her to work on her putting stroke at times when they were required to be in daily classes.

Yet, if you ask Jim and Linda Werner, the accidental masterminds behind this grand innovation in K-12 education, the flexibility their school offers isn’t designed to help students skirt scholastic obligations. It’s designed to help students get a “customized” education tailored to their unique needs, interests, aptitudes, and learning styles. 

As for the label “accidental masterminds," when the Werners first opened their school three decades ago, they weren’t looking to start a fervent “revolution” in the way Americans structure K-12 schooling. They were simply trying to address some educational challenges confronting their own children – and some of their homeschooling friends.

As a result, the Werners opened a “hybrid” school that offered neither the all-day-every-day schedule of conventional schools, nor the potential isolation of go-it-alone homeschooling. Fee-based courses arose organically in response to needs within their community; and partnerships were struck with other learning institutions. For example, the aviation courses that Carlson took (which she considers the “coolest thing I’ve ever done”) earned her dual-enrollment credit through Embry Riddle University, a national leader in aviation education. 

Today, the Werners’ school serves roughly 700 Central Florida students.

Read more in JMI's Policy Brief: Download file The Wave of the Future Policy Brief