The National Hybrid Schools Project launched in 2020 at Kennesaw State University in order to explore a growing phenomenon in American schooling—schools in which students attend physical classes several days per week but are “homeschooled” the rest of the week. Typically called “hybrid schools,” or “hybrid homeschools,” the schools we study are more formal institutions than homeschool co-ops—students typically take all of a hybrid school’s offerings, rather than a few a la carte classes—but they are also less formal than conventional five-day schools in that parents and students are expected to self-regulate and sometimes study new material on home days, outside of school.
Our inaugural 2022 survey of hybrid schools (Wearne and Thompson 2022a), which sought to simply ask as many of these schools as possible about their operations, curriculum, enrollment, and other characteristics, found a large percentage of them to be Christian schools. Nearly two-thirds indicated some Protestant affiliation, and the most common were Baptist or non-denominational. This supports other previous work that also finds a large percentage of hybrid schools to be Christian in nature (Wearne 2020).
As a follow-up to our inaugural annual national survey, we conducted a survey last spring on a particular issue related to hybrid schools: their teachers. This month the National Hybrid Schools Project released the results of that new survey (Wearne and Thompson 2022b). As we wrote in the report:
The 2022 Hybrid Schools Teacher Survey (HSTS) is the first effort at exploring the group of teachers who work in hybrid schools (schools in which students physically meet for fewer than five days per week and are homeschooled on the other days). The survey asked hybrid school teachers to respond to a variety of questions about their own education in terms of college degrees, their preparation to become teachers, their experiences as teachers over the course of their careers, their work environments in hybrid schools, and others. While some research has been conducted on the families who attend hybrid schools (Wearne 2020), and on their general operations (Wearne 2021), almost none has been done on the teachers within these schools. Most of these schools employ either one full-time person (usually the school principal/director), or zero. Teachers in these schools tend to be very part-time, teaching only a few classes or only a few days per week.
Given this description, hybrid school teachers clearly have a different work situation compared to their peers in five-day conventional schools.
Some of the content explored in this survey includes teacher backgrounds, their work experiences at hybrid schools, and their hybrid schools’ responses to COVID during the 2020-21 school year. None of the results below are empirical, and readers should caution themselves against making comparisons, but noting our results next to some of the results for private schools in the most recent NCES report (Taie and Goldring 2020) might be useful for readers LESSONS FROM HYBRID SCHOOLS: Research on Hybrid Schools Finds High Levels of Morale, Strong Sense of Shared Values Among Teachers ERIC WEARNE to orient themselves. While not all of the schools in our responses are private (many are from hybrid charter schools), the private schools in the NCES report are likely a closer comparison group for hybrid school teachers.
Teacher Backgrounds and Pay
Teachers at hybrid schools appear to have fewer years of experience than their peers in conventional private schools, with 10.5 years of teaching experience on average, less than the national average of 14.3 years. Hybrid teachers reported an average of 4.7 years of experience teaching specifically in hybrid schools. Of these, 51.9 percent of hybrid school teachers said they had less than 4 years of experience, and 4.6 percent said they had 15 years of experience or more.
Hybrid teachers also seem less likely to have taken courses in a variety of common teacher prep topics before beginning to teach. Teachers were asked about the following undergraduate or graduate coursework prior to teaching:
- classroom management techniques
- lesson planning
- learning assessment
- using student performance data to inform instruction
- serving students from diverse backgrounds
- serving students with special needs
Less than half of hybrid school teachers reported taking courses in any of these areas before teaching. However, like hybrid school teachers, fewer than half of private school teachers reported taking courses on using student performance data to inform instruction, serving students from diverse backgrounds, or serving students with special needs.
While their work satisfaction (discussed below) seems to be high, hybrid school teachers’ salaries appear to be lower than those at other private schools. Hybrid school teachers’ annual salaries averaged around $35,000, compared to $52,900 in conventional private schools. A wider variation among hybrid school teachers likely exists as well, as many of these teachers are very part time, often teaching only one or two classes for a few days per week.
Responses to COVID
Around 27 percent of hybrid teachers reported no change in the way their schools operated during the 2020-21 school year. This may seem somewhat surprising at first glance, although private schools were more likely to be open than public schools that fall in general (Scafidi et al. 2021). But given hybrid schools’ nature, this is less of a surprise. Even in spring of 2020, when every school in the country was forced to close, this was less of a change for hybrid schools than it was for others (Wearne 2021). A typical hybrid school changed from offering two to three days per week of live instruction, with some online support the other days, to five days of online support. Many hybrid schools use some kind of online learning management system to handle lesson plans on home days even during normal times. In reaction to COVID, they simply switched to using those systems all the time. They had more infrastructure in place to handle this quick transition, and their families had some practice in using it. Still, this survey shows that, like other private schools, most hybrid schools were willing to reopen and to operate normally as soon as they could.
Perhaps our most important and interesting findings relate to the work environments in hybrid schools and what those findings might imply for Christian (and other high-identity) schools in particular. Hybrid school teachers responding to our survey seemed to provide a counterpoint to the seemingly low teacher morale around the country’s conventional schools. Nearly 98 percent of hybrid school teachers said they were “somewhat” or “strongly” satisfied with being a teacher at their school, and 95.8 percent of teachers agreed with the statement: “Most of my colleagues share my beliefs and values about what the central mission of the school should be.” The former finding suggests a reasonably healthy professional culture at many hybrid schools. The latter statement should be of special interest to Christian educators; as institutions with specific identities, the teachers within these hybrid schools seem to be well-aligned with each other and with the overall missions of their schools. This survey is, again, exploratory and not experimental, and so there may be some selection bias in the results. But such high numbers do at least point toward a shared sense of ownership between hybrid school teachers and leaders regarding the missions of these schools. This satisfaction among teachers seems to indicate that they and their schools are “flourishing” at some level (Swaner et al. 2019).
Why might this be the case? By their nature, these schools require a unique and strong sense of partnership between families and schools. Hybrid school families are choosing to agree with a school’s mission by sending their children there a few days per week, but they also play a role in enacting a hybrid school’s mission by assisting with their children with work from the school during home days. Hybrid schools also tend to be small (the average enrollment in our full 2022 survey was 170 in grades K-8 and 79 in grades 9-12). Trying to be a large, comprehensive operation can be a threat to a school’s mission. It can get diluted as a school tries to be all things to all comers. Most hybrid schools functionally cannot even attempt this and so are able to stay more focused on their original missions. The level of parental involvement in the day-to-day life of the school seems to matter, too. Parents cannot simply hand their students over all week and have the school do most of the work—the parents have responsibilities, too, and are very aware about the curriculum content, assessments, and other pedagogical practices on an ongoing, intimate basis. But, unlike full-time homeschoolers, the parents are not actually in charge of determining curriculum and assessments. Parents who persist in a hybrid school setting are also submitting to the authority of the school to a greater extent than a homeschooling parent would, and this likely adds to their feelings of attachment to a school’s mission. Given the fact that most of these schools are small, a large amount of their operations are do-it-yourself by parents and faculty, which only adds to the shared sense of ownership.
This relates to our survey of teachers, as well. Hybrid school teachers’ jobs tend to be quite different from conventional school teachers’ jobs. A hybrid school teaching position is one of the very few in which a person can continue to work very part-time as an educator. Former teachers who stayed home for a few years but would like to continue to teach on a much-reduced schedule, or retired teachers and other professionals, are common profiles of hybrid school teachers. Having a place where they can simply teach the materials they love, with a significantly reduced load of paperwork and other responsibilities, is an attractive prospect for many teachers as they seem to appreciate and feel attached to these schools.
We do not have much data or research on academic or other outcomes for hybrid school students. We do have evidence that families are choosing these schools more often over time, as the rate of hybrid schools being founded appears to be increasing. Families were interested in these schools before COVID, and the popularity of these schools has only grown.
We also know that the teaching profession itself is changing. The long-anticipated teacher shortage may actually be coming true now, through a combination of planned retirements and early retirements encouraged by COVID rules and changes in school culture. Entrepreneurial opportunities are also more open to teachers now than they have been since the days before the common school (Matus 2022). Hybrid schools are one way that not just families, but teachers themselves might be seeking out new educational options.
Matus, R. 2022. Special report on teacher entrepreneurs: Leaving a classroom, starting a school. reimaginED (blog).
Scafidi, B., R. Tutterow, and D. Kavanagh. 2021. This time really is different: The effect of COVID-19 on independent K-12 school enrollments. Journal of School Choice 15, no. 3: 305-330.
Swaner, L. E., C. A. Marshall, and S. A. Tesar. 2019. Flourishing schools: Research on Christian school culture and community. Colorado Springs, CO: ACSI.
Taie, S., and R. Goldring. 2020. Characteristics of Public and Private Elementary and Secondary School Teachers in the United States: Results From the 2017–18 National Teacher and Principal Survey First Look (NCES 2020-142rev). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.
Wearne, E. 2021. Hybrid homeschools: Organization, regulatory environments and reactions to COVID-19. Journal of Pedagogy 12, no. 1.
Wearne, E. 2020. Defining hybrid homeschools in America: Little platoons. Lexington Books.
Wearne, E., and J. Thompson. 2022a. National Hybrid Schools Survey 2022. Kennesaw, GA: Kennesaw State University, National Hybrid Schools Project.
—. 2022b. National Hybrid Schools Teachers Survey 2022. Kennesaw, GA: Kennesaw State University, National Hybrid Schools Project.
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is an excerpt from the Spring 2023 issue of Research in Brief. To find the full issue and other resources from ACSI Research, please click here.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Eric Wearne, Ph.D., is associate professor at Kennesaw State University and director of the National Hybrid Schools Project.