Necessity is the mother of invention, and a lot of mothers (and fathers) trying to cope with remote learning see the necessity of inventing something, anything, to improve the experience. Thus were born learning pods.
In a year filled with novelties – too many, we might agree – this is one new development worth keeping.
Also dubbed “pandemic pods,” learning pods are small groups of children who, rather than sitting at home alone, tackle remote learning together.
One of the many downsides of remote learning has been the isolation many children have felt with schoolhouses closed, adding more mental and emotional stress at a time when a virulent disease is on the loose and many of their parents have lost jobs. Pods allow children to escape that isolation, enjoy some socialization with a handful of others, and even help one another peer to peer.
Predictably, many in the education establishment have tried to besmirch these pods, charging they contribute to inequity. I say “predictably,” because these folks seem to oppose any idea that wasn’t hatched in a school district’s central office.
But these objections can be as willfully blind and misguided as hypocritical.
Blind, because they can delude themselves – or may want to delude others – that families with means wouldn’t try to help their children if not for the pods. Tutors, computers, enrichment activities: These and more have been standard practice among some families for decades. The answer isn’t to block them, or to shame the people who use them. It’s to help lower-income kids access them as well.
And hypocritical, because no one else is more responsible for preventing that access. Right now, they’re failing to offer families any similar sort of assistance out of the nearly $20 billion Georgia will spend on k-12 education this year, whether schools reopen or not. And in the past, they’ve attacked policy proposals that would let those dollars follow the child to the education that fits him or her best.
Many school districts have bought laptops, tablets and WiFi devices to connect students to their teachers. Still, how does that help the single mother who has to go to work during the day, and can’t be there to supervise and assist her 7-year-old?
If letting that child’s classmates organize in pods presents the kind of equity problem public schools are meant to prevent, why isn’t the school offering help for that family? Unfortunately, some school districts instead are advertising what amount to their own learning pods, often held in public facilities, that would cost the family hundreds of dollars each month.
The CARES Act alone has poured almost $1 billion of extra federal education funding into Georgia. There’s been money for k-12 schools, for universities, for technical colleges. Yet little, if any, has been spent to address the isolation and lack of adult help and supervision many children face.
These children have perhaps one last chance.
Of that CARES Act funding, about $105 million was directed to Gov. Brian Kemp to use at his discretion. This past week, he announced the initial allocations of that money, totaling about $83.5 million.
The remaining $22 million or so could be directed toward micro-grants for low-income families and/or children with special needs. Both groups are particularly harmed by remote learning. A $1,000 grant could support more than 20,000 students to get through the coming months, particularly if they form learning pods and pool their money for tutors or other adult supervision.
Of course, it would be better to help more students. And if Congress can agree on another round of emergency funding, there’s a good chance Kemp will get additional discretionary money to perhaps offer more micro-grants.
With the Legislature out of session, only the governor can act. This is a prime opportunity for him to make remote learning work better for more Georgia students.
• Kyle Wingfield is president and CEO of the Georgia Public Policy Foundation: www.georgiapolicy.org.