Storefront schools

Why not?

In comments to the immediately previous post, Zhoen says segregation by gender is no panacea for education. But, she wonders at OneWord: Why not storefront schools?

For many years, I have thought the never-will-be-done answer was to have storefront schools. One room schoolhouses, two teachers and a local adult volunteer, no more than a dozen students, all online classes – a national, self paced, curricula. Touring experts and scholars for special lectures and demonstrations. Kid has a problem with a particular teacher, move ’em to the next neighborhood over. Walking distances from their homes, field trips common (easier to arrange with small groups), flexible schedules (let the teens sleep in). A circle of homeschools in rural areas instead of warehouses to haul whole populations into.

Why not? The idea strikes me as similar to Japanese juku, private schools for kids in public schools, where kids get remedial attention or advanced instruction, depending on what they need. I copy the Library of Congress’ description of juku after the fold.

What do you think? Is there an example of storefront schools we can cite either way, for or against the idea?

Comment away.

From the Library of Congress Country Study – Japan

After-School Education

Much debated, and often criticized in the late twentieth century, juku are special private schools that offer highly organized lessons conducted after regular school hours and on the weekends. Although best known and most widely publicized for their role as “cram schools,” where children (sent by concerned parents) can study to improve scores on upper-secondary school entrance examinations, academic juku actually perform several educational functions. They provide supplementary education that many children need just to keep up with the regular school curriculum, remedial education for the increasing numbers of children who fall behind in their work, and preparation for students striving to improve test scores and preparing for the all-important upper-secondary and university entrance examinations. In many ways, juku compensate for the formal education system’s inability or unwillingness to address particular individual problems. Half of all compulsory school-age children attend academic juku, which offers instruction in mathematics, Japanese language, science, English, and social studies. Many other children, particularly younger children, attend nonacademic juku for piano lessons, art instruction, swimming, and abacus lessons. To some observers, juku represent an attempt by parents to exercise a meaningful measure of choice in Japanese education, particularly for children attending public schools. Some juku offer subject matter not available in the public school curricula, while others emphasize a special philosophical or ethical approach.

Juku also play a social role, and children in Japan say they liked going to juku because they are able to make new friends; many children ask to be sent because their friends attend. Some children seem to like juku because of the closer personal contact they have with their teachers.

Juku attendance rose from the 1970s through the mid 1980s; participation rates increased at every grade level throughout the compulsory education years. This phenomenon is a source of great concern to the ministry, which issued directives to the regular schools that it hoped would reduce the need for afterschool lessons, but these directives have had little practical effect. Some juku even have branches in the United States and other countries to help children living abroad catch up with students in Japan.

Because of the commercial nature of most juku, some critics argue that they have profit rather than education at heart. Not all students can afford to attend juku. Therefore juku introduce some inequality into what had been a relatively egalitarian approach to education, at least in public schools through ninth grade. Yet, while some juku are expensive, the majority are affordable for most families; juku can not price themselves beyond the reach of their potential clientele. If rising enrollments in juku are any indication, costs are not yet a limiting factor for most parents, and juku clearly are given some priority in family budgeting.

If a student does not attend juku, it dies not mean that he or she is necessarily at a disadvantage in school. Other avenues of assistance are available. For example, self-help literature and supplemental texts and study guides, some produced by publishing houses associated with juku, are widely available commercially. Most of these items are moderately priced. A correspondence course of the Upper-Secondary School of the Air is broadcast almost daily on the Japan Broadcasting Corporation (Nippon Hoso Kyokai–NHK) educational radio and television channels. These programs are free, and costs for accompanying textbooks are nominal. In addition, about 1 percent of elementary school students and 7.3 percent of lower-secondary school students take extra lessons at home with tutors.

Data as of January 1994

5 Responses to Storefront schools

  1. I am all for experimentation in education. I would be behind an experimental program, 5-10 years. Let us see if it works.


  2. Ed Darrell says:

    I thought about Sylvan Learning when I made the post — they’re a lot more elitist, and a lot less hard drill, than juku, as I understand ’em.

    Thanks for the pointer to 826 Valencia.

    I’m not sure why replacing current schooling institutions is controversial. We’ve done it with too many students. We call them “dropouts.” The real question is, can we do it better.


  3. JasonR says:

    You mean like Kinder Care and Sylvan Learning?


  4. clayburell says:

    Interesting how parallel our questions are. I’ve got an active discussion thread about this and would love your input to my more radical (and uncomfortable) position that history finally makes possible replacing much of current institutionalized schooling. I’m in Korea, which has the same culture, in this regard, as Japan, and I have to concede that parents get it right: smaller classes, more individualized instruction, freedom from the poisons of grades and gpa’s. The 826 Valencia initiative is part of that discussion as well.


  5. Will Brehm says:

    This isn’t exactly a storefront school, but 826 Valencia has proven a model for one-on-one tutoring as a complement to public education open to all students. The writing center, which has been copied in other cities including Brooklyn and Chicago, provides visiting writers (Thanks to Dave Eggers), many field trips and workshops, a friendly atmosphere, and flexible hours. I think this is the size and local model that could easily transition into a true storefront school, focusing on a national, certified curriculum. Here is the website:


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