Kerry McDonald – July 20, 2021
Speculation abounds over whether or not the pandemic-induced growth in homeschooling is temporary. While there are several signs indicating that parents won’t be sending their children back to public schools this fall, and homeschooling continues to be a popular choice, the question remains: for how long and to what extent?
According to remarks by one prominent investor, this is just the beginning of a widespread shift away from conventional schooling models toward disruptive innovation in education–with homeschooling leading the way. “It certainly feels like we’re on the front end of a pretty dramatic homeschooling boom,” said Marc Andreessen, co-creator of the original Mosaic web browser, co-founder of Netscape, and co-founder and general partner of the leading venture capital firm, Andreessen Horowitz.
Speaking on the “Invest Like the Best” podcast this week, Andreessen said the pandemic has been a catalyst for parent-driven, technology-enabled educational change that will have a large and lasting impact on the education sector. For one thing, the pandemic gave parents a close-up opportunity to view what was happening in their children’s classrooms.
“I think it’s the first time parents saw what their kids are getting in the classroom at the K through 12 level, in many, many years,” said Andreessen. “Most parents, if you’re in your thirties or forties and your kids are in sixth grade or eighth grade, you were taught in the classroom 30 years ago, it turns out some things have changed. So the current curricula is quite a bit different at a lot of schools. I know a lot of parents were just shocked, absolutely shocked at the stuff that was coming across.” He added that “some set of parents are like, I’m not sending my kids back to that.”
Andreessen explained that his investment firm is eagerly backing online learning startups that can accelerate disruption in the slow-to-change, regulatory-laden education space. An article on the firm’s website provides more details on the forward-looking changes they expect to see in education technology startups as a result of COVID-19’s impact, as well as their investment strategy. In particular, the firm expects to move away from investing in founders who are focused on selling products and services directly to schools in favor of those founders who are selling directly to parents. “Many parents are taking an increasingly pronounced role in the academic experience, and we’ve seen the emergence of new platforms for supplemental education and homeschooling,” the article states.
Abetted by school closures and related pandemic policies, the education sector is ripe for “creative destruction,” the term used by economist Joseph Schumpeter in his 1942 book, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy, to describe the dynamic process of new business models and enterprises replacing legacy organizations and industries. He explained that capitalism is “the perennial gale of creative destruction,” fueled by entrepreneurship and innovation. Schumpeter writes: “The opening up of new markets, foreign or domestic, and the organizational development from the craft shop to such concerns as U.S. Steel illustrated the same process of industrial mutation—if I may use that biological term—that incessantly revolutionizes the economic structure from within, incessantly destroying the old one, incessantly creating a new one. This process of Creative Destruction is the essential fact about capitalism.”
As parents demand more education options beyond an assigned district school, the opportunity for creative destruction grows. New federal data reveal that overall K-12 public school enrollment fell three percent during the 2020/2021 academic year, while preschool and kindergarten enrollment dropped by an astonishing 13 percent. Many parents opted out of district schooling for homeschooling, which tripled from pre-pandemic rates to over 11 percent of the US K-12 school-age population. Black homeschoolers led the surge, with a five-fold increase in homeschooling rates from the spring of 2020. Moreover, voter support for school choice policies that allow education funding to follow students instead of school systems has just reached an all-time high this month.
Parents want more choices and entrepreneurs will provide them. Legacy schooling models are on borrowed time, as new educational prototypes gain popularity and support. But Marc Andreessen warns that the process of disrupting the educational status quo won’t be easy.
He explains that “new education startups should be ready to come under just withering assault from Washington or from Sacramento because all of the teacher unions, and all of the universities, and all of the people who are basically wired into those systems are going to just try to kill it.”
With the enthusiasm of millions of parents and learners, and the support of prominent investors, there’s never been a better time for entrepreneurs to battle the entrenched education bureaucracy–and win.
Originally published at Fee.org. Kerry McDonald is a Senior Education Fellow at FEE and author of Unschooled: Raising Curious, Well-Educated Children Outside the Conventional Classroom (Chicago Review Press, 2019). She is also an adjunct scholar at The Cato Institute and a regular Forbes contributor. Kerry has a B.A. in economics from Bowdoin College and an M.Ed. in education policy from Harvard University. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and four children. You can sign up for her weekly newsletter on parenting and education here.
Photo: Marc Andreessen, a16z.com