Hillsdale College ‘growing like wildfire’; Parents shift to alternative K-12 universe

by WorldTribune Staff, April 13, 2022

Parents frustrated with the woke/LGBTQ+/BLM agenda being pushed on their children in K-12 schools are gravitating toward alternatives offered by Hillsdale College and other conservative organizations.

Michigan-based Hillsdale College has helped open 21 charter schools and partnered with 33 others in 27 states through its Barney Charter School Initiative.

Hillsdale charter schools are ‘focused on the cultivation of virtue. It’s focused on good character … every parent wants this for their child.’

Since 2010, the schools have offered students “a classical education with a focus on civic virtue and moral character,” Valerie Richardson noted in an April 13 report for The Washington Times.

“We are growing like wildfire,” Kathleen O’Toole, Hillsdale assistant provost for K-12, said in a Dec. 9 virtual town hall. “And we’re careful about our growth because we want to make sure every school that we are working closely with is an excellent school. It’s hard to start a school. It’s really hard to start an excellent classical school, but it’s also really necessary.”

Jeremy Wayne Tate, CEO of the Classical Learning Test, which offers classically based standardized exams, said: “I think we are on the very precipice of a massive disruption in K-12, and the classical renewal movement is going to be on the receiving end with a lot of these families. It already is.”

Classical education emphasizes the preservation and restoration of the liberal arts, including the “great books” and the traditions of Western civilization. “Students at classical academies are far more likely to encounter Latin and Greek than critical race theory. That selling point has become increasingly relevant as classrooms morph into ideological battlegrounds,” Richardson noted.

O’Toole added: “Classical education is a commonsense approach to teaching, coupled with a curriculum that brings the best methods for reading instruction, mathematics instruction, cursive, sentence diagramming, all of those things that we know really work, with the best that Western civilization has produced. The best books, the best thought.”

Currently, the Hillsdale network enrolls more than 14,000 students at its 21 member schools and 33 “curriculum” schools, which include charter and private schools. More than 8,000 students are on the waiting lists at the 54 affiliated schools.

“With classical education and what I would describe as secular progressive education, it seems like every time parents are fairly presented with both options, they want classical education,” Tate said. “It’s focused on the cultivation of virtue. It’s focused on good character. I think every parent wants this for their child.”

Hillsdale offers at no cost the 1776 Curriculum for grades K-12 that “provides teachers with guidance — not dictates — about how to plan and teach a given topic in American history or civics.”

The classical education revolution first rose to prominence with the growth of the charter school movement in the 1990s. “Some schools date back even earlier,” Richardson noted.

• The Association of Classical Christian Schools traces its roots to three such schools founded in 1980 by three groups of parents in three states. The Idaho-based network, the nation’s largest, now has 304 member schools in 46 states.

• The Classical Academies, based in San Diego County, California, started its first public charter school in 1999. The network has since grown to seven schools with more than 5,000 students.

• In New York City, the Bronx-based Classical Charter Schools serves students in grades K-8 through its four schools, the first of which opened in 2006. About 98% of its students are Black or Hispanic, and the network has a waiting list of 7,000, according to its website.

Hillsdale announced in February that it would launch a master’s degree program in classical education.

“One of the greatest challenges that classical Christian schools and classical charter schools face today is finding qualified headmasters and administrators,” said David Diener, former Hillsdale Academy headmaster and education lecturing professor. “This program helps to meet the need for trained headmasters by providing administrative training as part of the offered coursework.”

Tennessee Democrats are fighting an effort by Republican Gov. Bill Lee to partner with Hillsdale to add 50 charter schools. The Democrats say state funding would be better spent on regular public schools.

Mary Hasson, a senior fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, said Republicans seeking a real revolution in K-12 education need to push for state per-pupil funding to follow students to both public and private schools.

“I think parents have a renewed sense of urgency. I think they see things they didn’t see before. I think there’s much more openness to try something new,” Hasson said. “I also think it’s time that the conservative movement stopped apologizing for wanting to give parents alternatives.”

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