Learning Pods & Equity: will the strategy exacerbate already-existing inequalities?

MADISON, Wis. — Many families are turning to learning pods to help supplement virtual learning as many school districts plan for an online start to the school year – but there are concerns that some families might be left behind.

Learning pods are essentially small groups of students who get together with a private teacher instead of at a traditional school.  This can be appealing to parents who want extra academic support and some structure for their kids who might not be getting that with virtual education.

But it can provide some barriers to families already at a disadvantage because of the achievement gap.

Many of the pods we’ve heard about will hire a tutor. This means families will pay for that extra help at a time when many are struggling during the economic recession. Families we’ve talked to also say they’re keeping their groups tight and only including close friends or neighbors, to stay safe and socially distance together. An unintended consequence, though, is that this could exclude kids from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

We’re also learning there’s a difference in what white families are concerned about, compared to what families of color are worrying about.

Access to technology is one of those concerns. According to Axios, nearly three times as many parents of color say if their school doesn’t reopen in-person, they won’t have access to the necessary technology for their kids to go virtual.

In pods where parents are stepping up and acting as the teachers, parents will inevitably have to take time away from their jobs. For parents of color, this risk is greater. They’re 37 percent more concerned than white parents about losing income if they can’t work, according to Axios.

News 3 Now This Morning is taking a deep dive into this pandemic, online learning and what it means for the achievement gap. Coming up next week, we will share what Madison organizations are doing to make sure all kids succeed this school year.