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Some pods will survive the pandemic

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At a museum in the historic house in Newton, Massachusetts, nine children seated at three tables configured in a U-shape each work on their own online lesson. After their 25-minute “Pomodoro” cycle, a time management technique designed to optimize one’s ability to focus on a specific task, they take a break from a variety of outdoor recreational activities, from badminton to bananas.

Children are enrolled in KaiPod Learning, a program that offers small-group learning modules with access to virtual schools, tutoring and in-person support, as well as a variety of student-led enrichment activities. . On the day of my visit, many students, but not all, had planned to participate in an afternoon yoga session.

KaiPod is among the starter pods that have emerged from the height of the pandemic and have survived so far.

In the summer of 2020, the frenzy around learning modules – also known as micro-schools and pandemic modules – was high. As described in “The rapid increase in pandemic pods” (After that, Winter 2021), families, including mine, would band together or join frantically out of a desire to preserve some in-person support, community, and normalcy during an otherwise unnatural year.

At the same time, issues of fairness and parental shame were rife. Educators, researchers and the media were concerned about who would have access to these clips and whether low-income families would be excluded.

A year later, the scene is different. While the Delta variant has changed plans, people seem more interested in going back to school in person. The conversation around pods hasn’t gone away, but it has calmed down. Many families, including mine, pulled out of their pods last year because they found them unsustainable for a number of reasons.

And yet, many pods that have an institutional structure behind them, rather than being run entirely by parents, have survived. They find their niches and develop. Despite fears that pods will only benefit residents of prosperous suburbs like Newton, some of the most robust pod experiments have taken place in school districts disproportionately serving low-income and minority students. According to the Center for Reinventing Public Education, which collected information on 372 different learning modules during the pandemic, 36% of the largest urban school districts operated or sponsored learning modules during the pandemic, for example, the majority of them focusing on explicit service. the most vulnerable students. According to the CRPE, nearly 39% of these nacelles operated throughout the year 2020-21. Only 12 percent permanently closed; what happened to the rest was not clear.

Some districts are looking to continue using the modules to create alternative schooling arrangements that better support children who need it most. It is worth watching to see if anything more lasting persists from this movement as the nation goes through a third year of interrupted schooling. Case studies from Cleveland and Boston, as well as DeKalb County in Georgia, Edgecombe County in North Carolina, and Guilford County in North Carolina, help to better understand pod performance and what they can facilitate in the years to come.

Cleveland

When Cleveland declared in July 2020 that the school year would begin remotely, community organizations including the Cleveland Foundation, MyCom, Say Yes Cleveland and United Way of Cleveland, stepped into action alongside the Cleveland Municipal School District. As documented in a report titled “Building Community-Based College Learning Modules for Cleveland Children,” organizations worked to open 24 modules that served 808 of Cleveland’s most vulnerable students, all of whom except 32 were enrolled in Kindergarten to Grade 8. The funds came largely from philanthropic sources, although federal funds from the CARES Act also supported the effort.

The main reason parents and guardians reported enrolling students in the modules was for educational support, followed by the need for safe care while they were working. For some students, pods were an option of last resort, without which they would not have been able to attend classes online, despite the distribution of computers and Internet hotspots in the neighborhood. Indeed, many students lived exclusively with their grandparents, who were unable to help them connect. Kindergarten to grade 5 students were in particular need of such help. Other students have faced homelessness or utilities that have been disconnected at home. Modules attendance was relatively high, at 75% overall and 85% among K-5 students.

Students and parents were extremely happy with the capsule experience, with 98% of parents expressing appreciation. At the same time, 55% of parents said the modules did not meet students ‘academic needs, but it is unclear how this compares to expectations or the counterfactual of what the students’ academic experience would have been without. modules. Academic data from the pods has yet to be released to shed light on this topic, but there are some preliminary bright spots. District data, for example, showed that pod students connected more to the district learning management system and completed more homework than non-pod students. Judy Willard, one of the staff on one of the modules, said the students were on the right track in their academic learning despite many starting the 65 year lessons behind.

The Cleveland Pods are not operational for this 2021-2022 school year, but the district plans to use a pod-like structure to facilitate student-led peer tutoring efforts.

Boston

In Boston, as in Cleveland, a group of community organizations – the YMCA of Greater Boston, Latinos for Education, Inquilinos Boricuas en Acción, and BASE – came together with philanthropic funding to create 12 modules that enrolled more than 165 students, 82 percent of whom identified as Black or Latinx. Eleven of the modules were face-to-face for K-8 students, and one was virtual for high school students.

Organizations had coordinated before Covid to reinvent schooling to bridge the opportunities gap for students of color in Boston. When they launched their pods in September 2020, they had four main goals: to provide a safe and supportive environment; create a daily structure to help students stay on track; demonstrate the benefits of students working with Black and Latinx staff; and build a larger infrastructure to support students.

Bellwether Education, an education consulting firm, has researched and advised the intervention against these goals. There were positives and negatives. Attendance has been lower than expected and Bellwether’s next report does not provide quantitative academic results. On the other hand, with 95% of staff identifying as Black or Latinx and 100% having previous educational experience, 76% of parents said their child’s bond was stronger with module staff than with module staff. their regular teacher. Ninety-two percent of parents also said they had been informed by staff about their child’s day. This type of family engagement could be a harbinger of greater connection and academic advancement, although it’s hard to know given the limited data published so far.

Given the lack of a virtual schooling option in Boston for the 2021-2022 school year, modules do not continue, but community organization leaders are looking to find new ways to partner with local schools to continue to provide the full set of the child supports that, based on the survey data, the parents appreciated.

The future of pods

Unlike Boston and Cleveland, some districts are actively pursuing their pods.

With TNTP, a nonprofit education consultancy, CRPE has created deeper partnerships with six school districts to try and create something more sustainable and transformational out of the pod movement. The DeKalb County School District in Georgia, for example, is using the modules to reinvent alternative schools. Alternative schools, which serve students who have dropped out or transferred from traditional schools, have always struggled to show the value they add for students.

Public Schools in Edgecombe County, North Carolina launched Learning Centers last fall to help students connect to online classes and get in-person assistance. District leaders found that families appreciated increased flexibility in when and where to learn. In the long term, the district hopes that this model will offer a new approach to school that strengthens the bonds between the school and the community. In this more hybrid future of schooling, students would enroll in a physical or virtual school for the “center” of their experience, then primary and secondary students would join “reasons” – or interest groups – for the other time. High school students will receive tutor-like support and work in paid positions or internships.

Public Schools in Guildford County, also in North Carolina, are looking to create school days in which high school students learn in person for three hours, then have more flexible time outside of school. to engage in a variety of activities, including completing homework, working, or receiving tutoring or other enrichment opportunities. The district is considering this as part of a larger overhaul of their high schools that were not effectively serving many students, even before Covid.

It seems unlikely that pods will be a dominant force in American schooling anytime soon. Their influence will likely fade from the 2020-2021 school year. Yet many parents and district leaders remain intrigued by the possibilities created by the modules, enough that this option persists in some localities as a schooling choice in a larger whole. Indeed, Tyton Partners, an education consultancy, estimates that 1.5 million children are enrolled in micro-schools this fall. Based on the reported parental satisfaction, pods seeded in some of these localities may continue to grow.

Michael Horn is editor-in-chief of Education Next, Co-Founder and Distinguished Fellow of the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, and Senior Strategist at Guild Education.