Brittany Wagner


From harnessing solar energy to launching the first privately funded rocket, SpaceX founder and PayPal cofounder Elon Musk is a doer.

When something is broken, the billionaire doesn’t sit back and wait for change. When he didn’t think that payment over the Internet worked optimally, he created PayPal. When he saw that the U.S. space program had stalled, he founded SpaceX. When he drove on the highway and saw too few electric cars, he started Tesla.

Recently, Musk turned his attention toward a new market—education. Dissatisfied with what he saw, the inventor did what comes naturally to him, he built something better—Ad Astra.

While Ad Astra (Latin for “to the stars”) sounds more like a cutting-edge technology startup than something to do with children, it is a private school that enrolled over a dozen students during the 2014-15 school year, including Musk’s five sons and children of other SpaceX employees.

Enrollment is only expected to grow to 20 students next fall, but the school’s mission to eliminate assembly-line learning is gaining momentum. Ad Astra functions without grade levels and focuses on the individual needs of students.

“Some people love math. Some people love music. . . . It makes more sense to cater the education to match their aptitudes and abilities,” he said in an interview for Chinese television.

This concept is not new. In fact, De La Salle Middle School, a private school in Saint Louis City, also organizes students based on ability, not age.

Additionally, four states have adopted Education Savings Account (ESA) programs to both give schools more autonomy and parents more flexibility to find the educational model that best fits their child’s needs. Families like the Vissers and Ashtons have benefited from Arizona’s ESA program. They have been able to develop a unique educational program for their children, and their stories are worth watching.

Unfortunately, burdensome state regulations and inflexible funding streams often prevent innovation in education. I hope seeing what is possible in the private sector through examples like Ad Astra will encourage state leaders to allow for more specialization and experimentation. Finding a school that best fits a child’s needs should not be limited to the uber-wealthy and smart.

Whether Musk is sending people on the 140 million mile journey to Mars or attempting to reform education, I wish him luck! One of these will prove to be a less difficult challenge, and I hope it’s the latter.

To watch Musk’s interview about Ad Astra, click here.


About the Author

Brittany Wagner
Education Policy Research Assistant

Brittany Wagner was an education policy research assistant at the Show-Me Institute.