When Covid forced students to learn from home in spring 2020, families were left largely on their own to figure out how to fill the gaps in school structure and supports, leading to the emergence of learning pods.
Some of these small learning communities continued into fall 2021, either because of continued pandemic uncertainty or because of their potential value as part of a new structure for public education.
What supports could make it possible for learning pods to continue?
In Equitable Pandemic Learning Pods? A Glimpse of an Emerging Ecosystem, Public Impact, in collaboration with the Center for Reinventing Public Education, maps the ecosystem of organizations needed to support a small subset of these learning communities, highlighting the roles these organizations played and challenges they faced. Supporting entities include organizers, funders, schools of record, operators, hosts, facilitators, and more.
The research led us to several conclusions that we hope will help leaders make the most of this opportunity for sustainable small learning communities:
- Start with the “organizer”—the foundational entity that can ensure that all vital roles in the ecosystem are filled and that students have equitable access to learning communities.
- Focus on ecosystem gaps—organizers can focus on the elements likely to be lacking, such as special-education services and assistance with finding staff for small learning communities.
- Attend to funding—to continue to thrive post-Covid, small learning communities would need systematic and sustainable funding sources. Possibilities include having some education dollars follow children to pods, tapping philanthropy, or “braiding” multiple sources (such as funds for childcare, after-school programming, or student support).
- Move (with caution!) toward accountability—if pods continue post-Covid, policymakers will need to determine how to ensure these learning communities are safe and effective, without squashing the diversity and innovation that are their hallmarks.
- Pursue equity—although the proliferation of small learning communities serving a diversity of children showed that pods can advance equity, any decentralized activity that requires resources will favor the advantaged, unless strong actors counterbalance that force with an equity-oriented agenda. Organizers can play the critical role of ensuring that small learning communities serve students who need learning boosts the most.