Brick-and-mortar education

Brick and mortar schools refer to traditional educational institutions where learning and teaching take place in person within physical school buildings. This longstanding model continues to play a vital role in K-12 education across the United States.

History and Origins

Brick and mortar schools have their roots in the one-room schoolhouses that proliferated across rural America during the 19th century. As populations grew, especially in urban areas, schools expanded into larger buildings with multiple classrooms and grade levels. By the early 20th century, comprehensive public school systems had been established across the country.

The brick and mortar model enabled a community-based approach to education, with students attending neighborhood schools. School buildings served as important civic institutions and pillars of community life. This remains true today, as many see schools as central hubs for youth activities, social services, and community events.

Characteristics and Learning Environment

Brick and mortar schools are characterized by physical school buildings containing classrooms, lockers, cafeterias, auditoriums, gyms, sports fields, and other facilities. Students receive in-person instruction from teachers and interact face-to-face with classmates throughout the day.

The hands-on learning environment enables activities like science experiments, art projects, physical education, and music/drama productions. Students can access resources like libraries, computer labs, and career/technical education workshops. Recess and lunch offer social bonding experiences.

Curriculum and Learning Approach

The curriculum at most brick and mortar schools covers core academic subjects like math, science, history, English, and foreign languages. Instruction is primarily teacher-led, including lectures, discussions, and direct guidance. Group work and collaborative learning are also emphasized.

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In addition to academics, extracurricular activities are a big part of the brick and mortar learning experience. Sports, clubs, band, theater, and other programs allow students to pursue interests and develop talents.

Standardized testing is used to evaluate student performance and school effectiveness. College entrance exams like the SAT are important milestones.

Teachers and Administration

Brick and mortar schools are staffed by licensed teachers who have completed postsecondary teacher education programs. Teachers facilitate classroom instruction and monitor student progress. Principals provide administrative oversight for the entire school.

Support staff are also critical, including counselors, nurses, librarians, cafeteria workers, custodians, bus drivers, and others. These staff contribute to the operation and culture of the schools.

Students and Families

One major benefit of brick and mortar schools is educating a diverse array of students from the surrounding community. Students can interact with peers from different backgrounds. Many schools provide bus transportation so students have equitable access.

Parent-teacher conferences and PTA meetings allow families to engage in student learning. Safety and discipline policies aim to provide an orderly environment for students. Health services, counseling, and special education resources are often available.

Pros and Cons

Advantages of brick and mortar schools include facilitating socialization, hands-on learning, extracurricular activities, and one-on-one teacher attention. Having centralized locations also makes it easier to provide meals, transportation, and support services.

However, costs associated with maintaining aging buildings can drain resources. Class sizes are limited by physical space. The in-person model also restricts flexibility in scheduling and customizing education for individual students.

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Evolution and Trends

In recent decades, technology integration has brought computers, smartboards, and other tools into brick and mortar classrooms. Blended learning combines online and in-person instruction.

School choice policies have enabled expansion of charter, magnet, and specialized schools, creating more options within the brick and mortar model. Differentiated and student-centered instructional strategies are also increasingly common.

Role in Modern Education

Despite growth of online schools, brick and mortar institutions still dominate the K-12 education landscape. The in-person school experience remains essential for most families. Surveys indicate many employers also prefer job candidates with traditional schooling backgrounds.

Moving forward, brick and mortar schools will likely continue adapting to best support student needs while retaining their role as community pillars. Blending online elements into in-person learning can leverage technology while preserving what makes physical schools invaluable.


For over a century, brick and mortar schools have served as the foundation of K-12 education in the U.S. The physical learning environment enables academic instruction, social development, extracurricular activities, and access to resources that support the growth of young people. Though facing some challenges, brick and mortar schools remain highly valued by families, communities, and employers. Blending online elements into traditional in-person learning can help today’s brick and mortar schools evolve while upholding their essential place in education.


  1. What percentage of US schools are brick and mortar?

Over 90% of K-12 schools in the US continue to use a traditional brick and mortar model, with in-person instruction occurring on physical campuses. Just under 10% are fully virtual schools.

  1. How big are classes in brick and mortar schools?
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Class sizes vary greatly, but average around 25 students in most brick and mortar schools. Some schools have larger classes exceeding 30 students, while others aim for a smaller teacher-student ratio.

  1. What costs are associated with brick and mortar schools?

Major costs include building construction and maintenance, utilities, teacher salaries, staff, transportation, and supplies/materials. Upgrading aging buildings is also an increasing cost.

  1. What technology is used in brick and mortar classrooms?

Common technologies include computers, laptop carts, interactive whiteboards, document cameras, digital textbooks, wifi, and cloud-based apps and platforms. Assistive tech for special needs students is also used.

  1. Are brick and mortar schools better than online schools?

There are pros and cons to both models. Brick and mortar schools are better for students who thrive in social environments and prefer hands-on learning. Online schools offer more flexibility. The ideal approach depends on the individual student.

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