Economics / Education / Startups

Brooklyn’s new thing is taking your kids out of school and using this startup instead

CottageClass wants to free teachers from standardized tests with a platform similar to Airbnb.

Homeschooling in Brooklyn. (Photo courtesy of CottageClass)

More New Yorkers than ever are homeschooling their children, and now there’s a Brooklyn startup to help bring some professionalization to the practice.

The company is called CottageClass and it’s the work of former teacher Manisha Snoyer. The idea behind CottageClass is to set up regular communal classes and clubs taught by vetted teachers. The model is sort of like Airbnb, in that teachers can create their own classes and parents browse the listings.

“One of the things I discovered early on is that there’s a growing number of parents in Brooklyn starting their own homeschool clubs,” Snoyer told Technical.ly by phone recently. “I’ve found that the families homeschooling are not typically religious or really alternative in any way, it’s just parents who couldn’t afford private school and didn’t want to send their kids to public school.”

The platform seems to have found a willing audience here. According to Snoyer, more than 400 kids have been served by classes on the platform. CottageClass has raised $240,000 so far, according to Snoyer, and completed the Techstars accelerator last year.

Overall in New York, the number of homeschooled children is low but continues to grow. In 2014, there were nearly 3,000 New York City students who were homeschooled, which is roughly double the number from the early 2000s. Nationally, there are around 2 million homeschooled students, the majority of whom are Christian evangelicals.

There are resources for New York homeschoolers already. In Brooklyn, there are a bunch of meetups for homeschooled students and parents, including New York Homeschools, the New York Homeschooling Meetup, homeschoolnewyork and Brooklyn Homeschoolers.

There are also support websites, such as HomeschoolNYC.com, which has offerings of classes and curricula, resources for further enrichment, projects and ideas.

There are also existing microschools, such as the Beekman School on E. 50th St., which has classes of just six or seven kids.

What CottageClass hopes to do is organize a lot of these resources for parents in one place. The classes would allow parents to outsource some or all of the curriculum to teachers, and the small, group classes allows the homeschooled kids some social time with other children.

Snoyer said she came up with the idea when she herself was a schoolteacher.

“One of the things I found most frustrating was the approach to behavioral management,” she said. “Because there were so many kids it was hard to do anything besides force kids to be quiet and sit still.”

She said she did private tutoring on the side, mostly for the children of wealthy, uptown families, where she saw the negative consequences of traditional school on the kids.

“Every kid I taught was plagued with social anxiety and depression,” she said. “I had children throw up while tutoring them, I had parents sobbing, worrying about the SAT. I just saw a lot of children’s lives destroyed and sent to rehab for drug abuse and they were just really being destroyed by the kind of pressure they were getting at school.”

As much as Snoyer thinks students will benefit from CottageClass, she thinks teachers will, too. The opportunity to create their own curricula and teach the way they want to, rather than hew to the strictures of teaching in preparation for standardized tests, is liberating for people who love to teach.

“In public school all of their wisdom is being squashed, they’re not able to teach what they want or how they want, they’re having to teach for these standardized tests to they don’t get fired,” she explained. “We’re not trusting our teachers to personalize curriculum and it’s a tragedy.”

Snoyer said that the next steps for CottageClass will be refining the online product, including identifying the courses most in demand and attracting teachers for those courses. She suspects skills-based topics, such as coding, might be be in demand.

Series: Brooklyn

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