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The Surging Growth of K-12 Classical Education

Crossposted at The Bottom Line

Significantly more K-12 students today are receiving a classical education than just a few years ago, and this growing trend is accelerating nationwide.

Classical education, while not easily defined, is typically structured as the Trivium, with students progressing from Grammar to Logic to Rhetoric. There is an emphasis on the Great Books, and the cultivation of virtuous character. Students are taught to recognize and appreciate ‘the True, the Good, and the Beautiful.’

According to a recently released market analysis by Arcadia Education, classical school enrollment for the 2023-2024 school year is estimated at over 677,500 students spread among 1,551 schools. Nearly 39% of those students receive classical education by way of at-home learning, co-ops, or microschools. Another 34% attend a Christian evangelical classical school. Over 18% attend a classical public charter school, and almost 9% attend a Catholic classical school.

These estimates are conservative and do not include homeschooled students who use a variety of curriculums, including classical, for a portion of their learning. Additionally, upwards of 50 online education providers deliver holistic classical education to students.

As of January 2024, 72% of parents have considered a new school, 63% have searched for a new school, and 44% have chosen a new school for their children. And if the past few years are any indication, many more will be receiving a classical education in the coming years.

Keri D. Ingraham

The prolonged school closures initially triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and exacerbated by the teachers unions, with remote class sessions, gave parents a front-row seat in their children’s schooling. The lack of quality learning occurring was concerning, as well as non-academic related content that did not align with many parents’ values. Parents became increasingly engaged and expressed concern. As their voices were ignored, many realized there had to be a better way and began looking for educational options outside of traditional public schools.

As a result of parental searching, classical education schools became a sought-after solution for a significant number of families across the country. Between 2019 and 2023, 264 new classical schools were started. This occurred with an average 4.8% growth rate of new schools per year. In addition to the new classical schools launched during this period, existing classical schools experienced enrollment increases.

These growth rates only include data from the three largest umbrella organizations of Christian classical schools — Association of Classical Christian Schools, Institute for Catholic Liberal Education, and Society for Classical Learning. They do not include classical schools without these affiliations, home-based classical education, or enrollment growth within previously existing schools.

The trend of parents looking for new school options has not slowed down. As of January 2024, a parent survey showed that 72% of parents have considered a new school, 63% have searched for a new school, and 44% have chosen a new school for their children. And if the past few years are any indication, many more will be receiving a classical education in the coming years.

Arcadia Education forecasts that by 2035, 1.4 million K-12 students will be enrolled in a classical school. That would translate to 2.4% of all K-12 students nationwide. Within the forecast, the largest subset would be over 522,000 students receiving a classical education through a homeschool co-op, online school, or microschool. The next largest subset would be over 300,000 students attending an existing Christian classical school, followed by nearly 148,000 students attending an existing classical public charter school. Furthermore, it is forecasted that 144,000 students will attend a new Christian classical school that does not exist yet or a current school that will be converted to a Christian classical school.

The remaining classical school types are also anticipated to contribute to the growth of classical school enrollment. Those include 100,000 students attending a school that moved from classical-oriented to fully adopting the classical model, nearly 83,500 students learning at a new classical public charter school, and over 74,000 students at an existing Catholic classical school. Lastly, it is projected that 34,000 students will attend a new Catholic classical school by 2035.

The classical education enrollment surge echoes the surge in charter schools that had rapid enrollment growth between 2000 and 2020. During those 20 years, charter schools increased from 1,989 to 7,823, and enrollment moved from under 449,000 students to nearly 3.7 million.

Time will tell how strong the classical surge is, but one thing is certain — parents want alternative school options beyond traditional district public schools for their children, and record numbers are selecting classical education.

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.