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Major Growth Generators of K-12 Classical Education

Crossposted at The Bottom Line

K-12 classical education has emerged as a quickly growing, sought-after educational option by parents for their children over the past four years. The COVID-19-induced school closures, with remote sessions, triggered a ‘great parent awakening’ around their children’s education. Parents began to desire an alternative to the traditional district public school. Some went a step further and sought a different educational option, some of which secured new schooling for their child. This trend of seeking educational freedom from the district-assigned public school is rapidly accelerating.

parent survey conducted in January 2024 by the National School Choice Awareness Foundation reveals that 72% of parents “considered new schools for their children last year–a 35% increase over 2022.” Furthermore, 63% “searched for a new school,” and 44%, in fact, “chose a new school” for their children.

According to a market analysis completed by Arcadia Education, the growth rate of new classical school openings in conjunction with the Association of Classical Christian Schools, the Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, or the Society for Classical Learning between 2019 and 2023 averaged 4.8% annually. Additionally, existing classical schools across the country increased the number of students enrolled, and classical homeschool learning expanded.

With the resurgence of classical education’s widespread popularity, large-scale efforts are warranted to provide an adequate supply to meet the demand. Therefore, it is important to consider the strategic generators of growth, which, when leveraged, can substantially expand the supply side of K-12 classical education in the United States. Arcadia Education has identified seven major growth generators.

With the resurgence of classical education’s widespread popularity, large-scale efforts are warranted to provide an adequate supply to meet the demand. Therefore, it is important to consider the strategic generators of growth, which, when leveraged, can substantially expand the supply side of K-12 classical education in the United States.

Keri D. Ingraham

First, affiliated school networks already in existence are allowing new classical schools to launch utilizing components already in place. For example, brand recognition, shared back-office services, financial stability, and access to qualified personnel help create an accelerated runway for new schools to get off the ground and be positioned for success.

Second, philanthropy aimed at opening new classical schools has increased in recent years. The Barney Charter School Initiative, tied to Hillsdale College, has strong financial support to aid in its attempt to launch new classical schools throughout the United States. Additionally, the Herzog Foundation assisted in the opening of 29 new Christian classical schools in 2023 and forecast another 39 in 2024. These organizations and their funding aid are invaluable in quickly growing the number of classical schools.

Third, the expansion of school choice is helping fuel the growth of classical education. As of now, ten states have signed universal or near-universal school choice into law. Six of those states have done so by enacting universal education savings accounts (ESAs) programs, which give parents the flexibility to apply their child’s education funding toward various educational learning options. ESAs are breaking down the financial barrier, allowing families to select classical education in various private school learning environments, including on-campus full-time, hybrid, online, and microschools, as well as homeschooling avenues.

Fourth, Christian classical schools grew from 140 in total in 2010 to over 700 as of June 2023. According to a 2023 survey of 147 of these schools, the average enrollment was 230 students, yet these schools can considerably increase the number of students they serve. Furthermore, existing Christian schools are pivoting to Christian classical education, and this trend is anticipated to continue.

Fifth, the supply of Catholic classical schools can be expanded by enlisting the help of Catholic education leaders. At its peak during the 1965-1966 school year, approximately 5.7 million students attended a Catholic school in the United States. Yet Catholic school enrollment experienced a catastrophic decline, losing millions of students. Closed public schools beginning in March of 2020 and parental concerns over classroom content were catalysts for a significant number of parents to move their children to Catholic schools. Enrollment growth has continued, and many diocesan buildings have space to substantially increase enrollment, which currently averages 286 students per school.

Sixth, many classical schools utilize the Core Knowledge curriculum developed by E.D. Hirsch, Jr. Beyond that, there are 700 official Core Knowledge schools in the country with an estimated 571,000 preschool-grade 12 students. Currently, these schools are not officially classical but are closely aligned in their academic content and approach. Adjusting Core Knowledge schools to become classical schools would not require major overhauls but would meet the growing market demand for classical education. According to Arcadia Education, “If only 10% of these schools transitioned to classical, that would translate to nearly 10% growth for the classical market.”

Seventh, developing pipelines of equipped future teachers from classical and liberal arts post-secondary education institutions to K-12 classical schools is essential for expansion. On the contrary, if this does not occur, Arcadia Education cautions that the top impediment to the growth of K-12 classical schools will be the ability to “source, recruit, employ, and retain significant numbers of highly qualified, classically aligned educators.”

Parents, by the droves, are considering, searching for, and selecting new schools for their children. The extent to which classical education expands to serve more families will largely depend upon the degree to which these seven specific growth generators are leveraged. There is no time to delay in meeting the demand by providing more children with a high-quality classical education — preparing them exceedingly well for life.

Keri D. Ingraham

Senior Fellow and Director, American Center for Transforming Education
Dr. Keri D. Ingraham is a Senior Fellow of Discovery Institute and Director of the Institute’s American Center for Transforming Education. She is also a Senior Fellow at Independent Women’s Forum. Dr. Ingraham has been a guest on Fox News multiple times. Her articles have been published by The Wall Street Journal, New York Post, The Federalist, Real Clear Education, The Washington Times, The Epoch Times, Washington Examiner, National Review, The American Spectator, Daily Caller, The Seattle Times, Puget Sound Business Journal, The Daily Signal, and a host of other media outlets. Fox News has featured her work. Prior to joining Discovery Institute, she spent nearly two decades leading within the field of education as a national consultant, requested conference speaker, head of school, virtual and hybrid academy director, administrator, classroom teacher, and athletic coach. She authored multiple chapters for the book, Sketching a New Conservative Education Agenda, published in 2022. In 2019, she was invited as a contributing author for the book, MindShift: Catalyzing Change in Christian Education and co-authored “From Gutenberg to 5G.” Dr. Ingraham was awarded the George W. Selig Doctoral Fellowship in 2013. The following year she received the “World Changer in the Field of Education” award from Regent University.