Pandemic Pods And The End—Or Just The Beginning?—Of Class Disrupted

The media is ablaze right now about so-called “Pandemic Pods” and micro-schools—from the Wall Street Journal to the Washington Post and Bloomberg News.

Fearful of the lack of learning that occurred in the nation’s experiment with remote learning in the spring and the loss of childcare and given the number of districts saying they will be doing remote or hybrid learning in the fall, families are forming pods, which consist of groups of parents bubbling together in a variety of ways to provide childcare or curriculum—and often times both—for their children.

Micro-schools aren’t a new topic from my perspective—see here and here as just two examples from the archives—but the state in which they and pandemic pods are forming certainly is.

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be creating a variety of media to help parents and educators learn more, from interviews on my YouTube channel and Facebook page with the founders of Outschool (watch the interview here), Wonderschool, Learning Pods, and more to an article I’m working on that will summarize the different flavors of pods and address the question of whether the nation’s experiment with pods is a flash in the pan or heralds a larger shift in learning.

Pandemic pods are also stoking lots of conversation about the deep inequities in education with everything from critical takes to parent shaming.

On my end, I continue to be distressed that districts aren’t doing more to innovate during the current moment. Schools have focused a lot of resources on how to open in the fall—the logistics of keeping children distanced from each other, protocols around mask wearing, busing safely, and more—but far less time on using this moment to innovate to create bridges into a more equitable schooling system that is more robust for all students, not just some. Just imagine if instead of relinquishing the moment to pandemic pods, districts rode on their coattails to create more student-centered learning models.

Class Disrupted

As Diane Tavenner and I wrapped up the final episodes of our Class Disrupted podcast, that was our focus on Episode 10, which you can listen to (or read the transcript of) here. The thrust of the episode was that we should have addressed many of the equity issues we raised before Covid-19, but amidst the pandemic, redesigning the system is all the more urgent. We profile fictional students to show how the system doesn’t work particularly well for anyone—regardless of background—and offer ways forward.

In the spirit of a focus on those with the least—but also acknowledging the inconvenience for well-off families—we addressed the question of whether schooling ought to be year-round on episode 9.

Many think that our current schooling schedule is because of our nation’s agricultural roots. Students had to help out on the farm in the summer, the thinking has gone, so they weren’t enrolled in school. But that ignores the inconvenient importance of the fall harvest—and the reality that at least until the Civil War, children went to school year-round. Summer break only materialized because the rising middle and upper class in American society wanted to beat the summer heat, so they just pulled their kids out of school and took off to the countryside or to the beach and cooler climates because school attendance wasn’t mandatory back then. With all these empty seats in the summer, legislators and labor unions pushed for a more regulated summer break—and now we just treat this as they way school is done. In the episode we point to some other ways this could be done—while yes, acknowledging our nostalgia for the beauty of summertime.

And in episode 8, we tackled the faulty promise of standardized tests. With Covid-19 having upended the world of testing, Diane and I think that there’s an opportunity to rethink test strategies, so in the episode we look at where tests originated and if the way we use them best serves students.

Finally, for those looking for some refreshers and further insights from the podcast, here are three:

1)    I authored a piece for Forbes titled “Three Critical Considerations For Teachers To Adopt Technology,” which stemmed from our interview with Larry Berger for episode 2. In this article, I highlight some of the observations Larry made that didn’t make the cut for our podcast.

2)    In this piece for eSchool News, Dennis Pierce took us up on our challenge in episode 7 (Straight A’s for All? What’s the Purpose of a Letter Grade?) to the primacy of letter grades with his article, “Is it time to retire letter grades?

3)    In this video, I offer 4 tips for how K­–12 schools ought to approach reopening in the fall.

Colleges reversing course

No surprise here, but in the face of the rise of Covid-19, many colleges are reversing course on their stated plans to reopen in-person in the fall. Check out The College Crisis Initiative at Davidson College to keep track of the numbers.

No surprise here, as Jeff Selingo and I predicted this on our final Future U podcast for the season—along with the continued cancellation of many sports.

But like K–12 schools, colleges ought to be using this as a moment to innovate more and focus on their priorities.

In the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, Colby College turned heads in May when it guaranteed that all 300 of its seniors still in search of work would have a meaningful opportunity within three months of graduating.

When asked how it would accomplish this, Colby’s president, David Greene, told CNBC, “We need 300 jobs, but we have 30,000 alums and family members… who are ready to help.”

That a jobs guarantee is newsworthy says a lot about higher education today. President Greene calling on Colby alumni and families reflects the fact that it’s networks—not just degrees—that lead to jobs.

The move also suggests that networks shouldn’t just be summoned as part of a noble triage effort for graduates in dire straits. Helping students build supportive and widespread networks should be an ongoing part of how colleges design and measure the student experience.

In this piece for Forbes, Julia Freeland Fisher and I discuss the findings in her new report for the Christensen Institute with Mahnaz Charania about the importance of measuring students’ networks and how to do so.

On the note of the importance of networks in helping individuals land good jobs, I’m incredibly excited about the launch of SkillUp to help laid-off workers select and prepare for career paths that align with the economy of the future with a healthy dose of coaching resources to help them succeed. Read more here.

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I’ve enjoyed appearing on other podcasts this past month as well. If you want to check out some of them, you can visit here to peruse and discover new podcasts on the future of education that may resonate with you.

And for those of you wondering what this might mean for religious education during these times, you can check out this piece I wrote for Jewish Philanthropy titled “To Keep Children Connected, Focus on Hebrew School.”

As always, thanks for reading, listening, and writing—and stay safe and stay strong.