As more parents across the country choose charter schools for their children, interest in Hillsdale College’s K-12 Education program is growing, now with 106 schools using its classical curriculum.
The private college in Hillsdale, Mich., is among the highest ranked liberal arts colleges in the U.S., taking first in the Princeton Review’s Best 384 Colleges in 2023 for “most engaged in community service.”
Kathleen O’Toole, assistant provost for K-12 Education, told The Collegian there’s “an overwhelming amount of interest in quality K-12 education and the work of Hillsdale College.”
She added: “We get calls and emails nearly every day with the same encouraging request,” she said. “’I want to start a classical school in my community, can you help?’ We answer this question with a resounding yes.”
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Hillsdale’s K-12 Education program partners with charter schools around the nation at no cost to offer a classical education to students and training for teachers and school leaders. The work revolves in large part around what Hillsdale President Larry Arnn describes as a focus on local control.
“The national government cannot be good at controlling everything. Local things are better locally controlled,” he said. “Schools are very much local in their nature. Chief authority in them should be in the schools, where the teachers and the parents are gathered with children.”
Hillsdale, he said, “has a deep knowledge of all subjects taught in school.
“We make that available to the charter schools,” Arnn said. “They take it and use it to build great schools for the people they know and love.”
Charter schools, in particular, allow communities of all kinds to benefit from a classical education, “because the schools are started based on community interest,” O’Toole said.
“Some are quite rural, others in the middle of cities. Some serve a lot income population, other do not. Some schools have a higher need for special education teachers, other do not,” she told the news site. “We emphasize the community because these schools thrive when they are integrated in their local communities.”
The local focus, coupled with parent frustrations over a variety of issues in traditional public schools – from politically charged lessons to sexualized school materials – has contributed to significant enrollment gains in charter schools in recent years, particularly since the pandemic.
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Charter school enrollment jumped from 6.8% of all public school students in the 2019-20 school year, to 7.5% in 2020-21, according to data from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools.
The National Center for Education Statistics notes that from the fall of 2010 to the fall of 2021, the number of students enrolled in public charter schools doubled, growing by 1.9 million students.
Hillsdale’s K-12 Education program has benefited from the trend, and now includes 23 member schools, 14 candidate member schools, and 69 curriculum schools in 33 states.
“For a number of reasons, the classical education movement has accelerated in the past few years,” O’Toole said. “It has been wonderful to see the overwhelming interest in returning to a tried and true way of educating human beings in intellectual and moral virtue.”
To maintain the momentum, the K-12 Education program recently launched a School Leader Fellowship program to help address demand for school leaders nationwide. The program allows fellows to work in a Hillsdale-associated school, shadow a headmaster through the school year, and participate in leadership training while working closely with the K-12 Education office.
“This fellowship is new, but has already proven successful with Isaac Johnson, our first fellow, accepting a dean’s position at Cincinnati Classical Academy,” O’Toole said.