Show Sidebar Log in

Co-operative Schools


While formal schooling is a popular and accessible means for disseminating a broad base of knowledge, it can also be limiting. The public school system aims to provide opportunities to learn for everyone regardless of class, race, or gender, but it often is challenged by issues of inequality like any institution.

Where property taxes are low, like in many depressed rural and urban areas, public schools cannot be supported well financially and remain in poor quality compared to those in high income neighborhoods. This is especially worrisome since schools are meant to provide ways out of poverty instead of perpetuating it.

Additionally, the curriculum is restricted in formal schooling because of institutions such as the state, religion, or even dominant third party corporations, which seek to manipulate education and reinforce the existing social and economic system. Bureaucracy within school districts also inhibits teachers from teaching in alternative and more experimental ways.

One solution to promoting the abundance of formal schooling is giving teachers, who are committed to student well-being, the initiative to run their schools. This practice, called co-operative schooling, has been done in manly impoverished areas such as Detroit and Newark as well as globally such as in Britain (Hawkins 2009, Hu 2010).

Co-op schools can function as primarily teacher-owned, parent-owned, or as part of a co-operative trust group. However, all forms focus on alternative methods of schooling that rely on community empowerment. Parent-owned operations mainly stem from homeschool or church co-operatives where groups of parents organize for kids to socialize and learn particularly about subjects that parents are uncomfortable teaching themselves. However, this wiki page explores mainly teacher owned co-operatives. These are essentially producers' co-operatives. 


Context Within NORA


Supportive Relationships: For students, co-op schools create a strong sense of interdependence. Students learn how to interact with one another, finding their roles within a group context. 

Meaningful Livelihoods: Education allows students to discover passions and interests which could benefit them in their future work. It is important to be exposed to a diverse curriculum which can be meaningful to many different individuals. Co-op education in particular establishes life skills and a fosters a culture of motivated people to promote success. 

Teachers also experience greater meaning for life when they have a greater voice in the school. Co-ops promote teacher leadership and are built around teachers' compassion for their students. Without bureaucracy and hierarchy of school districts, teachers can solely focus on the goal of educating their students.

Opportunities to Learn: Co-operative schooling provides students from every social and economic background with an education. It's important that schools provide services which address their students' needs.

Because the culture of communities are different, homogenizing education across districts and even across schools is an irresponsible practice. Co-op schools' individualized approach to education functions directly according to student needs.


Knowledge: By sharing knowledge and skills as a common good, community ties are strengthened. Because knowledge is an important gateway to many different opportunities to improve one's livelihood, it's important to recognize how society can generate and disseminate increased knowledge among everyone. Knowledge allows people greater satisfaction with life, problem solving abilities, and offers a greater chance of success in one's chosen livelihood. 

Organizational Forms

Committed Service/Sales Cluster

Co-op schools mission is to offer their students a practical education suitable to their future careers. The direct relationships between the teachers, students, and the structure of the school allows for a more sustainable organization. This way, co-ops can better cater to their patrons, the students. Although there are different forms of co-operative schools, most of them eliminate most of the bureaucracy in the education system and directly address student needs. The co-operative model implies that teachers, students, and community participation are all necessary for success.


History of Co-operative Schools

The co-operative movement was born in the early 19th century and became increasingly popular with the 1844 founding of the  consumer co-operative Rochdale Pioneers in England who paid dividends to customer-owners.The original principles of these cooperatives were built around the idea that people would come together to form membership organizations based on common ownership or mutual needs, the same ideas which form the commons (Walton 1997).

The co-operative movement set up schools in the 19th century, but had dwindled by the 1980s (at least in the United Kingdom). Those older co-operative schools served as a model, however, for some 200 schools that have opened in the UK since 2006, backed by local businesses such as supermarkets, funeral services, and banking services (Mansell 2011).

Twenty years ago, then president of the American Federation of Teachers Albert Shanker, endorsed the notion of progressive schools operating outside of conventional district bureaucracies. His goal was to put teachers at the core of the school. “If you want to hold teachers accountable,” he said, “then teachers have to be able to run the school." (Source is needed here


Understanding the Patterns of Abundance


Involving and bettering community

Co-operative education also involves instilling a culture of citizenship important to commons development. Although the co-operative primarily gives teachers substantial control in education, it also provides pupils, parents, local people, and employers an element of power inside schools by forming membership committees. The members consist of representatives of a "stakeholder forum", who then express the views of the wider group to the school leadership, while also electing trustees, who in turn elect some of the members of the school's governing body. All of this seems to fit well with what many within the co-operative movement view as core educational values: democracy, equity and fairness (Mansell 2011).

It is also important to note that students are witnesses to this democratic process. When schools are run democratically, students will develop a better concept of how commons work. Seeing parents and teachers actively involved in their coursework, will hopefully instill a civic interest in their future. Additionally, since these schools are tailored to student needs, students are further encouraged to participate in the democratic process as part of their education. 

Involvement also entails students committing to required service projects based on the needs within the community. Teachers help with logistics, but ultimately it is up to the students to find a cause and make a difference. Students work in teams to identify problems and work towards solutions. In return, students see firsthand that they can actually make a difference in their own world.

Teacher Leadership Model

Teacher-owned schools are based on the idea of leadership called "teacher professional practice," which empowers educators by giving them control much like other professionals running their own practice. In this respect, teachers are held more accountable not only for the success of their students but for the school in general (Crowther 2008). 

Co-operative teachers, sometimes called advisors, are evaluated by other advisors and students. Like public schools, those who don't perform are sent back to the district’s hiring pool for reassignment. However, the advisor/faculty and trust members are often more involved in hiring and firing decisions. While many teacher unions believe this is dangerous to teachers' job security, it ultimately results in relatively low turnover rates (EdVision).
 The biggest difference among teachers working in co-op schools is that their teaching philosophies are often less interested in test scores than in the leadership model’s potential for creating a supportive culture that nurtures a love of learning, skill-building, and a social education built on cooperation. This is why many co-ops are being heavily adopted by charter schools that focus on ending the cycle of poverty in inner cities (Hu 2010). 

Studies by policy groups like Evolving Education on their co-op schools showed that when teachers were given control, much like other professionals running their own practices, schools had higher morale, less turnover, more efficient decision-making and greater motivation to improve. Given more recognition and freedom in the classroom, teachers will tend to feel more connected to their work. Motivation, happiness, and student performance will theoretically increase. Additionally, there is less focus on monetary gain with teacher-owned schools, because many teachers employed at these coops see themselves as providing a “common good”. They are doing what they are truly passionate about instead of just a job; it's an example of meaningful livelihood. Teacher ownership of the school leads to a greater responsibility for its success.(Hawkins 2009).

Incorporating environmental education

Teaching environmental education and its interrelatedness with all subjects is crucial in early education to promote a more conscious public. More co-operative support networks are beginning to get involved in sustainability education. The Co-operative School Society from the UK has founded the Green Schools Revolution with over 6,000 schools taking part in the sustainability program. The program utilizes walking school buses, composting, as well as free trips to co-operative agricultural and wind farms. It also includes free lesson plans for registered members (The Co-operative Schools Society).

Experimental Learning

With the added flexibility that cooperative education offers, teachers can experiment with different types of learning techniques and motivations to benefit students of every background. Because teachers are the administrators, they can adjust according to student’s specific learning needs. If traditional methods aren't working, they aren't restricted by school board curriculum policies. Teachers also have easier access to support systems from co-workers to draw on their expertise.

Much of the learning in co-operative schools is project based. It involves students working on individual or group projects that incorporate interdisciplinary materials and individualized learning plans. Project based learning emphasizes students' interests so that they pursue topics that may be of interest to them in a career. As well, it encourages education as a self-directed process.

Co-operative education structures often focus on interdependent learning. Instead of competitive environments that offer grades and incentives based on individual efforts, cooperative motivation encourages group progress and recognition. Rather than students focusing on individual development, cooperative learning allows students to assess their roles within the context of the group. 

As an added benefit, the co-operative system may also teach moral responsibility. Social interdependence in education allows students to naturally develop the responsibility to help others and use negative sanctions for those who fail to fulfill their responsibilities. A study by Ames & Ames (1984), "Achievement Goals and Learning Strategies", investigating cooperative learning motivations, notes an increase in positive peer interactions, pro-social behaviors, and positive peer relations with greater interdependence among students.

In order to create a more abundant future, cooperative learning strategies are crucial to commons education. They teach interdependence which is grounded in community building. Students learn skill sharing and understand the importance of helping, cooperating, and contributing. The more this education is promoted, the better is the chance of a sustainable future in which all needs of individuals can be met in both economic and environmental aspects (Ames & Ames 1984).


Test scores are uneven in co-op schools. Standardized testing is difficult to control when teachers are not specifically teaching for the test as in many public schools. However, many standardized tests are not valid measures of learning in the co-operative curriculum (Stevens & Slavin, 1995). 

One way EdVisions’ schools measures success is through life skills and critical thinking tests that score students on creativity, problem-solving, decision-making, time management, finding information, learning to learn, responsibility, self-esteem, self-direction, and leadership. They also use the Hope Index to measure each student’s disposition toward success. Students are learning how to apply knowledge gained in school to life careers. Although the Hope Index is not likely to replace state standardized tests, it speaks to a willingness of these schools to put their values into measurable terms and to track them over time. 

Management and collaboration is also difficult to begin without a strong staff. At least two co-op schools in New Jersey closed before graduating a single cohort. Each school carries a different set of problem areas and leadership structures. Developing an organic environment that functions is tough to replicate for every co-op (Hawkins 2009). 

Also, teachers sometimes must be able to balance between administrative duties and teaching. It is a concern of parents that teachers have neither the time nor the expertise to deal with the inner workings of a school, like paying bills, conducting fire drills, and refereeing faculty disputes (Hu 2010). Similarly, most teachers are reluctant to accept administrative duties on top of teaching responsibilities (Kerchner & Mulfinger 2010).

Overall, it's still important to remember schools are relatively new to the concept and have only begun gaining momentum in the last ten years (Mansell 2011).


EdVision Schools

Minnesota New Country Schoo

Beginning in 1994, Minnesota New Country School (MNCS) started a Teacher Professional Partnership (TPP) with a teacher co-operative to operate the school. It was one of the first charter schools transformed into a teacher-owned cooperative by teachers themselves who wanted to improve conditions in their rural school. Teachers, parents, community leaders, and even students joined the mission to reform the school. However, the progressive plans they had in mind including no classes, no bells, and no principal were rejected by the school board. 

After gaining sponsorship and testimonies from current teachers and students, the board approved. The local school district contracted with a third-party non-profit that supported teacher owned schools. It spawned a non-profit school service organization, EdVision, that has expanded to provide assistance to many different co-op schools. EdVision now helps operate 10 schools in Minnesota and 35 around the country that vary in the degree of teacher ownership and authority. EdVision invested $70,000 for the start up of the school and continues to provide hiring, curriculum support, and budgeting services in exchange for desired school performance (Kerchner & Mulfinger 2010).

​The main atrium area of the school is a shared workspace for all grade levels. Students spend a majority of their time in this area. Students are not only in close proximity to peers, but advisors are also able to connect with other faculty members.

MNCS, like many other EdVision schools, is based around project-learning, small learning communities, authentic assessments, and teacher governance. State standardized test scores aren't as high in MNCS but appear to be moving toward a positive direction. The average ACT score for MNCS students in 07-08 was 22.3, 1.2 points higher than the national average. 

The scores the school values more are from critical thinking tests, the Hope Index developed by EdVision, and of course feedback from students and parents. Surveys conducted by EdVision report that of the alumni of MNCS: 

  • 92% report they felt better prepared for college than their peers.

  • 83% felt competent in working toward their goals.

  • 72% of those in the work force said about their jobs that they either “like it a lot,” or “they love it.”

  • 82.8% reported they felt competent in working toward their goals.

While MNCS had many political obstacles with the school board in the beginning, now the board generally supports the unique school, recognizing that having different varieties of school structure better serve a variety of students. Still, some community members view the school’s progressive environment as exclusive with only 109 students in the 6-12 grade levels as the current maximum capacity. Since small numbers and student to teacher ratios are important, MNCS like other co-op schools do enrollment through a lottery system in which applicants are randomly selected. The school also rarely participates in district wide events like sports (Minnesota New Country School).

In the workspace areas, students can easily collaborate on projects. The day begins with large-group discussions of the news and expectations for the week. Then kids disperse to work at their own pace, sometimes spending hours in the computer corner, woodworking shop, or art studio.

Avalon School

Like Minnesota New Country School, Avalon is located in Minnesota. While it shares many similarities in organizational structure, it is labeled a freestanding school chartered under the sponsorship of Hamline University which has a partnership with EdVision (Kerchner & Mulfinger 2010).

Avalon was established in 2001 as a 6-12 grade school

Avalon, like other co-operative schools, requires that students graduate with a "standard" set of skills. The standard list is often fulfilled by projects directed by the students. Some of the topic areas include career exploration, technology, earth science, world literature, and graphing (Avalon 2013)




The Co-operative College

Burnt Mill School

Located in the working class district of Harlow, Essex, Burnt Mill has become one of the 335 co-operative schools in the UK. Doubling the number of co-op schools just in the past year, the UK has led the way in this type of education especially at the secondary level with its long established support programs such as the Co-operative College which connects these co-operative schools in a trust. The trust shares resources and knowledge from within the network.

The Burnt Mill School is an example of successful achievement of standards, often a challenge for co-operative schools. Three years ago, only 27 percent of students at the school achieved five good scores on the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) including areas of English and math. After the school became a co-operative trust school in 2010, 72 percent of students achieved target scores on GCSEs. The school was originally designed as a performing arts academy including drama, dance, and music. Currently, it still specializes in performing art education. 

The school's headteacher or primary executive, Helena Mills attributes the success of the students to the school's co-operative values and principles. The school involves key stakeholders like students and parents in the community which sit on the board. This practice ensures the school is democratically accountable to its community. Burnt Mill has a commitment to work closely with local education business partnerships to ensure programs meet the needs of industry and local business.

Additionally, Burnt Mill focuses on individualized learning plans and early notification of falling target grades to address problems early. The school has also aimed to improve home life of students by running parental workshops (The Schools Co-operative Society).   

Malawi Co-operatives

The Co-operative College also received funding from the Scottish government to partner with lower income communities to build co-operative schools in Malawi that focus on agricultural education. Vulnerable smallholder farmers in Malawi are supported and mentored to improve crop yields, diversify production, and receive better prices for their products. The project aims to improve rural community markets, develop Fairtrade certifications for farmers, and provide support for a sustainable environment in Malawi. Scotland not only funds the co-operative education program but also shares their specific knowledge of developing farmer co-operatives. These co-ops have been widely used in Scotland and played a role in the economy for over 100 years which is why they are looking to share their success with Malawi farmers (The Schools Co-operative Society).




Started in 2009 by a group of motivated Teach for America representatives, Building Responsible Intelligent Creative Kids (BRICK) became an organization dedicated to operating teacher-owned schools. It became the first of its kind in Newark, New Jersey. Since its formation, BRICK has built the BRICK Avon Academy and BRICK Academy with unique partnership with the Newark School District. It is a private school within a public district. BRICK utilizes a "global curriculum", extended day programs, community partnerships, and professional development for chronically failing schools.

Rather than bringing in third party consultants, BRICK empowers teachers to make administrative decisions. It makes sure that all stakeholders in the educational relationship between community, students, and teachers are well represented as well. In this respect, BRICK encourages sustainability and a holistic approach to failing schools.

BRICK's student continue to prove gradually more successful on standardized testing, increasing from 44% to 53% proficient among 5th grade math scores from 2011 to 2012. Still, this score among others severely lags behind those of students in other schools in Newark and the state of New Jersey. BRICK plans to improve scores significantly through the next years with a progressive new curriculum. This includes data driven results based on a "mastery tracker" which collects test scores on each student to be analyzed, similar to the Burnt Mill Academy's early notification system. 

BRICK is also pushing for an International Baccalaureate framework consisting of trans-disiplinary units centered around the themes who we are, where we are in place and time, how we express ourselves, how the world works, how we organize ourselves, and sharing the planet. These questions are asked and implied during every lesson. IB framework's goal is to "develop internationally minded people who, recognizing our common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet help to create a better and more peaceful world". The IB framework is divided into four pathways:

  • Primary years for students aged 3 to 12: focuses on developing the child as an inquirer and self-directed learner

  • Middle years for students aged 11 to 16: focuses on the practical relation between traditional subjects and the real world to become critical and reflective thinkers.

  • IB Diploma program for students aged 16 to 19: prepares students for success at university and beyond.

  • IB Career related diploma program for students aged 16 to 19: specifically designed for students who wish to engage in career-related learning (

Links and Stories

Avalon School: Minnesota based co-operative school

BRICK Academy: Newark based co-operative school 

Minnesota New Country School: 1st Minnesota based co-operative school 

Cooperative Schools International: UK founded co-operative society with a focus on schooling

Edvisions: Non-profit, third party group that partners with other businesses and schools to provide financial assistance to co-operative schools

Green Schools Revolution: Environmental education initiative started by the Co-operative College in the UK

Cloud Institute: Sustainable education program applicable for co-operative schools


Ames, C., & Ames, R. "Systems of student and teacher motivation: Toward a qualitative definition". Journal of Educational Psychology, 76(4), 535-556. 1984. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.76.4.535

Crowther, Frank. 2008. Developing teacher leaders: How teacher leadership enhances school success. Sage.

Hawkins, Beth. “Teacher Cooperatives”. Education Next: Vol. 9 No. 6. 2009.

Hu, Winnie. Sept. 6, 2010. In a New Role, Teachers Move to SchoolsNew York Times.

Kerchner, Charles & Laura Mulfinger. (2010). "Can Teachers Run Their Own Schools? Tales from the Islands of Teacher Cooperatives". Claremont Graduate University. See attached pdf file below, and the link to Kerchner's website.

Mansell, Warwick. 15 August 2011. Co-operative Schools: The Antidote to Academies”. The Guardian.

Stevens, Robert J., and Robert E. Slavin. "The cooperative elementary school: Effects on students’ achievement, attitudes, and social relations." American Educational Research Journal 32.2 (1995): 321-351.

Sterling, S. R. (2001). Sustainable education. Green Books for the Schumacher Society.

Walton, John K. "Co-operative movement" The Oxford Companion to British History. Ed. John Cannon. Oxford University Press, 1997. Oxford Reference Online. Retrieved Nov 5, 2013.

Discussion (0)

There are no comments for this doc yet.

Comment posting has been disabled on this doc.

Skip to toolbar