A parent’s guide: A spectrum of parent-driven education

May 17, 2023

Recently, Utah parents filed a lawsuit against the Alpine School District for potentially closing five elementary schools. The parents argued that the district didn’t follow proper procedures for coming to this decision, and the parents felt unheard. 

Tension between parents and the education system has been heating up in recent years. Of course, education developments during the COVID-19 pandemic – school shutdowns forcing parents into remote learning, mask and testing requirements, etc. – exacerbated the feeling for some parents that they had little control over how their child is educated once that child goes out the door. 

Not surprisingly, from spring 2020 to fall 2020 the number of U.S. parents who reported themselves as home-schooling more than doubled, from 5.4% to 11.1%. Similar increases were seen in Utah during this period, 5.7% to 11.2%. 

Out of the pandemic era was born the popularity of “parent-driven education” models – modes of education where parents directly teach, guide, host and/or administer their children’s education. Considering what research shows in terms of parent involvement – that it matters significantly to student learning – this paradigm shift toward increased levels of parent involvement is a positive outcome. In Utah this groundswell led to the passage of HB 215 – Funding for Teacher Salaries and Optional Education Opportunities, which created the first universal school choice scholarship, called the Utah Fits All scholarship program. 

As the term suggests, parent-driven education requires a higher level of parental involvement than other types of schools. However, the added commitments and extra workload for parents between one parent-driven model and another can vary significantly – they exist on a spectrum.  The specific approaches to parent-driven education can be as varied as the unique student needs themselves. But broadly speaking, parent-driven schools fall into one of five categories: home schooling, home-schooling co-op, microschooling, public partnership, and hybrid schooling. 

Home schooling  

The exact definition of home schooling can vary from person to person, but it generally describes a method of education in which parents exclusively teach their children at home. The traditional model has parents paying for curriculum and educational resources with no government assistance. However, the advent of education choice programs has allowed some public funds to be used in some home school scenarios.  

Of all the parent-driven education models, home schooling usually requires the highest degree of parent involvement. When parents receive no public funds to assist them, they act as the funders, teachers and administrators of their child’s school.  

In some states parents must file an affidavit (like in Utah), telling the state they are home-schooling their children rather than sending them to a brick-and-mortar school. Even when state programs pay for the materials, parents are responsible for administering the state program pursuant to any state requirements of reporting purchases for their child’s education.  

For parents potentially interested in home schooling, more information can be found at the Homeschooling Legal Defense Fund. 

Home-schooling co-op  

Traditionally, a home-schooling co-op is a home school in which parents get together for learning opportunities, swap teaching skills, or rotate instruction days. Co-ops can extend to a pay-and-send model much like a private school, where parents send their children to learn with other home-schoolers and do not take a role in teaching. Either way, this model can be funded by parents or with public funds if the state offers something like an education savings account.  

Traditionally, this model requires a high degree of parent involvement, because like regular home schooling, parents are often the administrators, funders and teachers. However, because a parent might be one of several parents responsible for activities or instruction days, this can lighten an individual parent’s load.  

From the state’s perspective, a co-op is usually just seen as a form of home schooling (since these too can exist on a spectrum, there can be some exceptions). So, meeting state requirements with an affidavit or application to a scholarship program for state funding may be required. When parents share resources or responsibilities, however, they can feel supported in finding expertise in subject areas or offering social opportunities for their children. 


Microschools are an educational option where a very small group of students of different grade levels and ages meet together for instruction, much like a modern take on the one-room schoolhouse. Some say that microschools have 15 or fewer students, while others will define microschools as having up to 150.  

Instructors for microschools can be parents, paid educators, or even online curriculum where an adult simply serves as a guide. For this reason, microschools exist on a spectrum between home schooling and private schools. Microschools can have a wider range of emphases or themes, locations, and payment models.  

During the pandemic, cleverly named “pandemic pods” were an organic model of microschools, since a handful of children of a variety of ages would learn together with a parent or hired educator as teacher or guide. Because microschooling is so new, estimates of how many students attend microschools are difficult to determine, but some suggest that 1.1 to 2.2 million children are microschooling. 

Depending on a variety of factors, microschools usually require a moderate-to-high level of parent involvement. When the parent is the teacher, the requirements for parent involvement are quite high because on top of setting aside time for instruction and finding a location, they prepare the curriculum.  

When the parent is a guide (as in the case of the Prenda network), a parent is responsible for the time and location, but the bulk of the content is curated/prepared for them and accessed online. When parents hire a paid educator, they still act as the microschool administrator – interacting at a high level with the instructor and potentially offering their home as a location for the school. In some instances, sending a student to a microschool is like sending students to a private school. More information about popular microschooling options can be found at networks like Prenda or Acton Academy. 

Public partnership 

State programs or public/private partnership options allow families to have more parent-driven education models with less of a workload for parents than a home school or microschool. Some schools have unique flexibility, like Canyon Grove Academy, a K-8 charter school that provides parents with curriculum and tools to create an experience similar to home school.  

In Canyon Grove Academy’s Adventures at Home program, parents decide whether their children will attend in person at the school one or two days per week, with at-home learning accounting for the rest. Personalized curriculum and instructional materials are provided to families at no cost.  

Another example is My Tech High, a K-12 public/private partnership, which allows students enrolled in certain public school districts to design a personalized education that includes an online “homeroom” and a variety of learning models, options and locations. For example, a sample schedule from MyTechHigh shows that a student could take online courses, a class from a local co-op, a BYU Independent study course, and membership in a local community choir or school district music elective. Because it is administered through the public school district, the classes fit within the state requirements. 

Parent-driven models that include state infrastructure or partnership can require low, moderate or high levels of parent involvement. This is because the state fills the roles of funder and administrator: giving parents structure, curriculum and tuition-free learning. How hands-on a parent wants it to be in terms of teaching is often up to them.  

In some ways, it can look a lot like home schooling if instruction occurs in the home. Others may decide to have minimal home learning or direct parent instruction. For parents who want to be more significantly involved in their child’s education, but are looking for resources to guide them or pay for classes or curriculum, the public partnership model might be the best options. 

Hybrid schooling 

There are almost an endless number of variations of parent-driven education, depending on what models and resources a family seeks out and implements. In fact, when the Utah Legislature established the UT Fits All Scholarship, it created pro-rated scholarships to fund hybrid models. This means that a student attending a public school part time could apply for a smaller scholarship to cover educational expenses for instruction or learning activities provided at home and/or through a private program. This emphasizes the fact that even the state is becoming more accommodating to all types of parent-driven models, which is good news for students and families – and future educational outcomes. 

The reality is that parent-driven education is as diverse as parents and students, as it should be. Parents interested in parent-driven education should feel empowered with the knowledge, understanding, resources and courage to try it.  

Insights: analysis, research, and informed commentary from Sutherland experts. For elected officials and public policy professionals.

  • Parent-driven education options are more available and accessible than ever, but the choices vary by level of parent commitment and resources required.
  • Most parent-driven education falls into the categories of home schooling, home-schooling co-ops, microschools, public partnerships, and hybrid options.
  • Public policy should make all of these options reasonably accessible to parents so they can find the learning model that best fits their child’s unique needs.

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