The Rapid Rise of Pandemic Pods: Will the parent response to Covid-19 lead to lasting change?

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Author: Michael B. Horn
Date: Winter 2021
From: Education Next(Vol. 21, Issue 1)
Publisher: Hoover Institution Press
Document Type: Article
Length: 1,632 words
Lexile Measure: 1400L

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WITH MORE SCHOOL DISTRICTS around the country announcing that fall classes will consist either of full-time remote learning or hybrid learning where children will spend up to a week at home at a time, increasing numbers of parents are taking matters into their own hands.

Some are forming "pandemic pods." These pods are a do-it-yourself approach to restarting children's academic progress and social lives after the challenging lockdowns of the spring. In these learning pods, families "bubble" together in small, closed groups to provide and share childcare, curriculum, or both.

These fast-growing pods come in a variety of configurations, as families build them out to suit. A similar response is occurring among online education technology providers and platforms, which are adapting in real time to create a dynamic ecosystem to serve parent needs.

Curriculum and Teachers

In some cases, parents are using tools like Facebook--the main "Pandemic Pods" Facebook group had nearly 40,000 members in mid-August--to essentially start their own one-room schoolhouses. Families are recruiting teachers to lead their pods and paying as much as $125,000 under these arrangements--more than most teachers make in an ordinary year. Some teachers are figuring out ways to work with multiple pods to increase their earnings.

In other cases, parents are depending on existing online programs to provide instruction for their pod. For curriculum, some families are remaining enrolled in their district school but following that program in their pod. Others are enrolling their children in virtual schools, such as the public charter and private-school programs run by K12, Inc., Connections Academy, or Laurel Springs School. Although the efficacy of virtual schools, particularly those in the charter sector, has come under attack, families' willingness to try these types of programs appears to be changing. Relative to the remote learning options a traditional district school is cobbling together, the offerings of virtual charters often look quite robust in comparison, as they provide both curriculum and teachers.

Other families are taking nontraditional pathways by enrolling in so-called micro-schools, which function as modern-day one-room schoolhouses and many of which use blended learning in their models (see "School Disruption on the Small Scale," feature, spring 2017), such as Prenda Learning and MyTechHigh. Or families are assembling their own curriculum through online providers like Khan Academy, ABCMouse, The Emile School, and Outschool.

Outschool CEO Amir Nathoo said the company's enrollments have soared to more than 300,000, compared to 80,000 total in the three years through mid-March 2020....

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