Parents want to send their children to schools that provide high-quality academics and align with their values. They also want more time with their children. These two desires need not conflict. A recent EdChoice poll revealed that only 41 percent of parents expressed a desire to send their children to on-campus schooling five days a week; 59 percent would prefer at least one day a week of home learning.
Due to the great awakening many public school parents experienced during COVID-19 — and due to generally increased remote-work flexibility — it’s not surprising that the demand for K-12 hybrid learning is at an all-time high. Yet despite a 30-year track record of success, the segment of families enrolled in this model today is vanishingly small.
Traditional public schools and public charter schools have mostly failed to adopt this model. And even private school innovation has proven limited. The number of hybrid-model schools comes nowhere close to serving the 30 percent of parents that polling suggests desire a two- or three-day on-campus school week. But due to the expansion of education savings accounts (ESAs), the private sector can respond more robustly to meet this preference, and policymakers can take concrete steps to enable traditional public schools and public charter schools to do so as well.
One promising model of hybrid schooling is known as college-simulated learning (CSL). CSL is an academically rigorous, character-development-focused, and cost-effective school-family partnership approach to K-12 education. Students attend class on campus either two or three days a week and complete schoolwork the remaining days at home, with parental involvement.
Whereas typical hybrid homeschool models place primary academic responsibility on parents, the CSL model is designed with the on-campus school providing teachers, curricula, and assessments while equipping parents to facilitate learning during at-home days. It leverages the combination of on-campus time with peers and professional teachers with highly intentional parental involvement in the learning material. Sometimes the CSL model is referred to as University-Model when a school is a member of the trademarked association.
CSL should not be confused with the à la carte model a few private schools employ, in which students customize their preferred delivery method of each individual course, whether on campus or online. In that model, a student, for example, may take English fully on campus and math fully online. This is not the case with CSL, in which every class has an in-person component.
In traditional K-12 schools, students attend classes on campus all day, five days a week. When students enter college, they will experience a new model in which they are often ill-prepared for success. The typical college course meets for roughly one hour on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays or an hour and a half on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The CSL model reflects the college-course structure, with students enrolling in courses scheduled either two days a week on campus, typically for the lower grades, or three days a week for the upper grades.
Active parental involvement is key for this model to work. In elementary grades, the parent acts as a private tutor. In the middle and high school years, parents progressively scale back their assistance to increase their adolescent’s learning independence. When students matriculate to college — or the workplace — they are well prepared to take ownership of their learning.
The Model’s Origins, Benefits, and Potential
The first school of this model, Grace Prep Academy, was launched in 1993 by a group of parents in Arlington, Texas. It expanded quickly — from an opening enrollment of 186 to more than 500 students, with hundreds more on a wait list. Today, the Grace Prep Academy hybrid model has been replicated repeatedly, with 90 University-Model schools in 24 states and four countries. Steady growth of these hybrid-model schools has continued (both with and without the University-Model trademarked membership association), and there are an estimated 300–400 such schools in America. But demand still outstrips supply, and growth has been hampered by these schools existing almost exclusively in the private school market, thus charging families tuition.
The model has several benefits that make it attractive to parents who desire to play an active — though not sole — academic instruction role in their children’s education. It helps children develop strong study and independent learning skills while providing parents full insight into academic content so that they can effectively reinforce it. The model frequently allows parents to choose between full- and part-time options, depending on what subjects they want to teach solely at home, independent of the school. The model lends itself to a mastery-based approach, in which, for example, a fourth grader could be doing grade-level work in most subjects but fifth- or sixth-grade work in the subjects in which the student is advanced academically.
CSL provides an option at a fraction of the cost of full-time private schools — perhaps the most important factor positioning the CSL model for potential significant growth. The passage of universal or near-universal ESA bills in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Utah, and West Virginia, as well as the passage of near-universal school voucher bills in Indiana, North Carolina, and Ohio, and a private school tax credit bill in Oklahoma, provides a unique opportunity to grow CSL model schools. These bills provide all or the vast majority of families in these specific states with access to funding that will cover all or most of the tuition for a CSL school.
Additionally, CSL’s lower facilities and staffing costs position it to scale faster than traditional private schools, which have larger barriers to expansion once the existing facilities have reached enrollment capacity.
The Public-Sector Potential
Now is the time to expand the CSL model not just in the private school market but also in public education — both in traditional public schools and public charter schools. The expansion into public schools will likely require policy adjustments in most states.
Existing seat-time requirements that don’t allow for part-time or the combination of home- and school-based learning will require revision to recognize home-learning time — or policymakers could waive the requirements altogether for CSL education. Furthermore, policymakers should consider incentivizing school districts to adopt CSL by offering higher district funding per student enrolled in a CSL model school. For example, instead of districts receiving funding in strict proportion to the number of days a week they serve students, the state could create a yearly district bonus for schools implementing the model. This would likely prove economical: Expanding school districts could serve more students without incurring additional capital costs, and school districts with decreasing student enrollment numbers could make facility-elimination decisions with greater flexibility.
Charter school authorizers will need to expand their parameters to allow for the CSL model. Policymakers could push for more university-based charter authorizers, which would likely view CSL schools favorably due to the model aligning more closely with higher education than the typical K-12 schooling experience.
Why Conservatives Should Champion CSL
Finally, conservatives should champion CSL expansion into the traditional public school and public charter school arenas because it would reduce the taxpayer cost of educating students. Not only would less staffing be required since students are not on campus full-time; the need for school facilities would also be reduced. With students coming on campus either Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays or Tuesdays and Thursdays, more students could use the same school facilities.
Expanding CSL into public education would give more families access to this effective model while increasing parental involvement, raising student learning, and reducing costs for public schools. Furthermore, the private school market should rapidly increase the number of these hybrid schools to meet the growing demand. This is especially timely for states with sweeping school choice laws now in place, allowing families to take their state-issued funding for their children to this highly desirable learning avenue.
Editor’s Note: To learn more about College-Simulated Learning for K-12, visit: collegesimulatedlearning.org
 EdChoice, Public Opinion Tracker, “National View of Education,” May 2023, https://edchoice.morningconsultintelligence.com.