Last year popularized the idea of microschools and learning pods, as pandemic-induced distance learning left many parents looking for alternative education options.
Now, SchoolHouse, a new New York-based edtech startup, is looking to bring microschools into the mainstream, and has raised $8.1 million in funding to take its model nationwide. Pace Capital led the round, with participation from investors including Dave Ambrose, Matt Ziskie, Trust Capital and Metrodora Ventures.
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The idea for SchoolHouse started with the realization that teachers are responsible for many of the learning outcomes and student satisfaction, according to CEO Brian Tobal, a former teacher and longtime edtech entrepreneur. He and co-founder Joseph Connor wanted to find a way to “move the teacher forward and make the teacher the centerpiece.”
The COVID-19 pandemic gave the co-founders the opportunity to test the idea of teacher-centered education on a larger scale. SchoolHouse now has about 250 students enrolled across about 50 locations in 10 states, with the average class size between six and 10 students, though some classes are larger. SchoolHouse grew to between $5 million and $6 million in revenue and raised capital in three months.
“In a lot of ways they operate the same way a normal classroom would … what we’ve noticed happening across every single one of them is they’ve started to become an expression of the needs of the students in them,” Tobal said in an interview with Crunchbase News.
Families sign up for SchoolHouse and are matched with a teacher. SchoolHouse handles administration, support and guidance, and parents pay tuition for their children to attend the school.
Tuition varies depending on pod size and location, but tuition for a pod of eight students in locations like New York and California would be around $7,386 per student per semester for five hours of school a day, five days a week, according to SchoolHouse’s website. Tobal said 90 percent of tuition goes toward teachers’ salaries.
Most of the microschools take place in private homes (such as a parent’s home), but some are in commercial spaces. With the new funding, the plan is for the company to go national.
The pandemic has made people question assumptions about how things should be, according to Pace Capital general partner Chris Paik, including the idea of moving for work or school.
“I think historically for all my friends, people moved for two things: for a job and for education,” Paik said. “And I think the pandemic very poignantly showed everyone that we should revisit the assumption that we should move for a job. Or that a job should be tied to a physical location. And I think the next (step) is revisiting if we should move to get a great education.”
SchoolHouse teachers use preexisting curriculums, and the company helps them set it up. But then the curriculums are tailored to the student, and there are formative assessments to make sure students are learning the core curriculum.
What was surprising, according to Tobal, was how quickly the classes were getting through the assigned curriculum. Because the classes were moving twice as fast as traditional education, teachers were able to dedicate the extra time to work on the students’ extra needs or interests.
The company’s first target audience is families who live in “school deserts,” or areas without a school nearby. The second target audience is students who are mismatched with the system they’re in.
“It’s a very deep pain that they (parents) can’t access a great education for (their) child,” Tobal said. “So what we want to be able to make accessible for those families … is a great school in their neighborhood.”
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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