Why Pandemic Pods are 'the Ultimate In Parent-Driven Education Innovation'

With public schools largely out of commission, parents are putting together their own ad hoc schooling alternatives.


"It's a big mess," says Hollie Gesaman, a mother of two young children in Streetsboro, Ohio. She was talking about the upcoming school year, and what parents would do with their kids. "A lot of people are on the fence about a lot of different things. Our school hasn't given us any idea of what they're going for. They have 'potential' plans, but the bottom line is that there's really not a 100% good choice." Send the kids to school? There's a health risk. Keep them home, and what about socialization? Homeschool? Unschool? Let them watch cartoons and learn the entire ACME product line? "There's a negative consequence for each possibility," Gesaman sighs. "Just pick a punch in the face."

The punch suddenly getting the most play is the "pandemic pod." "Pods went from, 'Oh, isn't that interesting?' to ubiquitous in about 72 hours," says Robert Pondiscio, a former Bronx public school teacher who now works at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

A pod is a small group of families who approve of each other's quarantining habits and whose kids will spend the next few weeks, months, or God-knows-how-long learning together away from the school house. These may be kids who were going to the same school already, or they may be neighbors, cousins, or play-group buddies. They may be the same age, or not. They may hire a tutor, a babysitter, or a bona fide teacher. They may tune in together to the school district's online lessons, or they may choose a totally different homeschooling curriculum. Their parents may or may not pitch in with the teaching. And they may or may not strive to include a kid or kids from a different income level, race, or neighborhood, to create more equity. (That last one is a big issue in the Facebook chats.)

In other words: Everything is up for re-imagining. "These pandemic pods are the ultimate in parent-driven education innovation," says Kerry McDonald, author of Unschooled. "Parents were forced into COVID homeschooling last spring. But now they are willingly taking the reins of their children's education."

Amy Evans, a writer with two kids in Montclair, New Jersey, is one of them. She thinks she will probably have her daughter attend whatever online/offline hybrid the local high school puts together, because it has (or had?) a lot of specialized classes her daughter wants to take. But for her son, an 8th grader, she's less sure. Is the risk and weirdness of a socially distanced classroom worth it, especially if there's no gym class? And what if a lot of time is spent repeating the online lessons not every kid paid peak attention to last spring?  Evans says she may not send him back "if it's a whole lot of reviewing and handwashing and still potentially unsafe."

Instead, she might formalize an ad hoc group her son and a couple of his friends threw together in March, when students were first sent home. They did their homework together, remotely. In a way, says Evans, "Our kids beat us to it."

Gesaman, the Ohio mom, also organized an informal gathering at her home in the spring. She had four first graders do math and art projects together in, essentially, a pod. "Some might say I invented the whole concept," she says. "Just kidding—absolutely no one is saying that." Furloughed from her job the same moment schools closed, she read up on the first grade curriculum and taught the class herself. She found the kids grasped the concepts, and now she is ready to do it again.

Does having a parent who can teach, or having a home with enough space for a class, or even confining a pod to people who can quarantine—thereby excluding the children of essential workers—create inequity? That's the question plaguing a lot of parents. Understandably so, says Pondiscio, "Because everything in education causes inequity. It's like the old Joe Jackson song: Everything gives you cancer."

He's not being flip. As the author of How the Other Half Learns, and he wants more equity between the halves, too. One idea that he, McDonald, and Corey DeAngelis, Reason's own director of school choice, have been thinking about is giving education dollars directly to families. Could this cataclysmic time of school closures and remote learning be the time to experiment with redirecting school money to the parents? They could use it to hire a personal part-time tutor, or create a local pod where everyone is pooling their stipends.

"I call it 'Universal Basic Education Income,'" says DeAngelis. Like food stamps that can be used at any grocery, or Pell Grants that can be spent on the student's college of choice, these education dollars could be spent wherever the family thought best, including at the local public school. When life returns to normal, the experiment could be studied, including any unintended consequences and whether it helped create more equity.

To Beth Isaacs, a music teacher in the Lexington, Kentucky, public schools, that sounds like a recipe ripe for the very worst inequity. The public school system takes students across the economic, educational and ethnic spectrum and gets them all interacting and learning together. "In my school, we are 100 percent free and reduced lunch, and 15 percent refugee," she says. 

Each teacher crafts the students into an assortment of, well, pods: Four kids at a table, learning together. The pods are shuffled all year long, so all the kids develop relationships and learn from each other. She worries that giving the education budget directly to parents means that some would choose to avoid any kind of mixing. She also stresses the possibility that a tutor would not be well-trained, and she argues that draining the ed budget would starve what Isaacs calls an already stretched-thin, "duct tape-and-Velcro" system.

"You're not draining the system," counters McDonald. "You're redistributing it to students and allowing for the freedom of choice we have in all other areas of our lives." As for hiring sub-par instructors, McDonald says "parents have the utmost interest in insuring that their children are highly educated" and will choose wisely.

Clearly this is a fraught moment. Parents are reeling, students are waiting, and school districts are punting. Everything is up for grabs, including whether there's about to be a giant teachers strike. But no matter what happens, this is going to be a year of educational changes, pods, no pods, or, given how things have been going, maybe even Tide Pods.

NEXT: Viewpoint Diversity Gets a Boost as Families Flee Public Schools

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  1. It sure would shake up the teacher unions if that $15,000 per student per year expense was sent directly to student parents, for them to spend as they wished on education for their kids. You’d have to have some controls — itemized reports on spending, with random audits and spot checks. Home schoolers could use it to pay the parents to teach instead of work, maybe half time, who knows …. but it would scare the beejayzus out of teacher unions, and that’s fine by me.

      1. I basically make about $12,000-$18,000 a month online. It’s enough to comfortably replace my I was amazed how easy it was after I tried it . GFr This is what I’ve been doing old jobs income, especially considering I only work about 10-13 hours a week from home………..Cash Mony System

      2. Cool that parents develop education schemes due to the fact that schools are closed. I believe that parents who work and whose children stay at home, study from home, can be more loyal and allow their children to use such a service as if they do not have time to write an essay with their child.

    1. While I’m sympathetic to that idea, I think the controls would have to be even more stringent and even then plenty of ne’er do well moms and dads are going to be partying on the extra $15k.
      Sure, responsible parents would spend it wisely but there are a lot who don’t fall into that description.

      1. It wouldn’t be hard to enforce some basic educational requirements. I bet there’d be fewer parents partying on that money than there are useless teachers and union reps and all that wasted bureaucratic staff now. Few people can waste money like a government bureaucracy’s union jobs.

        1. True. I mean, it’s not like EVERY sate has an existing program to issue a G.E.D..

        2. Just for your edification: schools throughout the southern US do not have unions as they are “right to work” states. Interestingly enough the test scores from AK, LA, MS are the lowest in the country yet there is no union presence. Just for your information.

      2. And I care why?

      3. Then how about we just don’t take that money away from people before we give it back to them?

        Then you don’t have to worry about what they’re doing with the ‘extra’ 15k.

        I also wonder why is it that public schools are always justified on the ‘well, *those* people won’t educate their kids’ line.

        1. “Then how about we just don’t take that money away from people before we give it back to them?”


          The “Take and Give Back” plan leaves people without school-age kids paying for schools that don’t exist while people with school-age kids in need of educating are exempted from paying for the non-existent schools that would only be necessary because of the kids they have.

        2. Then how about we just don’t take that money away from people before we give it back to them?

          This, although the expected response would be that those without means would be left in the dust in the education sphere.

          This of course ignores that immigrant families have been busting ass for a few hundred years in America to educate their children first and foremost.

          It has little to do with ‘means’ and a whole lot to do with ‘lack of will’ which normally doesn’t correlate well with success no matter how much money you throw at it.

      4. Reverendcaptain, simply give them an educational voucher that can be used for any established school, public or private. That’s the way to fund education. You’re worried the moms and dads might party on the money? Do you have the same concerns about the many public schools where (currently) children complete the courses of study with a sub-par education? Is that OK with you?

      5. The possibilities are endless:

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    2. “but it would scare the beejayzus out of teacher unions,”

      This is why the second this seemed to be “a Thing”, the left immediately declared it problematic. It is hilarious.

      My wife was trying to figure out what to do two weeks ago after our governor threw all plans out the window. She shared some link to the idea on Facebook, and had tons of our liberal friends talking to her about how this might work. A week later, those people have disappeared. They aren’t speaking out against pods, they just aren’t engaging. Which tells me that they want to do this (all are complaining about how they are going to do school this year) but they are afraid to cross the thin blue line.

      1. I love the smell of grinding gears of dissonance in the morning.

    3. The medical establishment has not conclusively proven that children aren’t carriers of Covid 19. Schools aren’t just children. Teachers, administrators, janitorial, food service, etc. If it isn’t safe to reopen bars, gyms and restaurants why is it safe to reopen schools? Does anyone out there think public schools in the inner cities will supply PPE to staff and children? What about ventilation? Half of NYC schools do not have air conditioning leaving the air inside stagnant. And does anyone believe these children will listen and follow directions? I doubt it seriously.

      1. While not conclusive, this link indicates COVID concern for children is unwarranted. Open the schools and let parents decide to go or not to go. I bet most will go.

  2. No telling what will happen next. But it can’t get much worse than this generation of undereducated ideological no nothings entering adulthood. They are literally burning the place to the ground.

    1. .5/10

      1. Nice handle. I see your point 🙂

  3. “what about socialization? ”

    They cant be socialized unless they are six feet away from everyone in a classroom where everyone is masked and the teacher has objected repeatedly to having to be there at all.

    1. Well, if you define socialization as indoctrination in left wing ideology, you have a valid point.
      But if socialization means interacting with varied age groups and races and ideologies, and actually learning to think instead of marching in lockstep with a single age group of viewpoint bullies, then no.

  4. I care about inequity in education, I want more of it. The biggest issue with the existing public school education system is it teaches to the lowest common denominator. As a result, those students who are good in math are held back by those who aren’t. Similar for physics, writing, chemistry, etc. Instead, we should be striving to challenge each student to be the best they can in their abilities rather than trying to have equal results between everyone. A perfectly equal result education will only result from everyone being equally uneducated in everything.

    1. Or as a lefty prog would put it, nobody should be a physicist unless everybody can be a physicist.

    2. Remember “Educating Peter” that feel good documentary about main streaming a down syndrome child? After that they really started shoving that down everyone’s throat, has learning disability, no problem put him in with all the other kids. Has an emotional issue, no problem put him in with the rest of the kids. And watch all the rest of the kids in class suffer because one or two kids take all the teachers time, constantly disrupting class. And then they wonder why none of the kids in these school districts can do basic math.

      1. I don’t really see much of a problem with it, but the only reason why I say that is because a kid with a massive learning disability isn’t much different than a kid who is forced to be there and has zero desire to learn anything. The only difference I see is that one of them can’t learn by choice, which is frankly worse in my view.

  5. What’s the downside of Homeschooling???
    Best decision we ever made for our son. He’s actually learning again instead of being indoctrinated and having his critical thinking skills destroyed. No need to use “their” online services, you can make your own curriculum or pick from a thousand pre-packaged ones.
    Sure as hell better then following the mandates of the municipal terrorists that think quarantining healthy people to fight a Plandemic is normal.

  6. I don’t have kids, and so am speaking out of my butt, but the idea of pods sounds eminently sensible. Get some lockdown exceptions in place for pods immediately. Get the unions on board and approving. The only way to get government schools back and running. Of course, I don’t like government schools, but last I checked only libertarian crackpots like myself want to abolish them. So pods are the next best thing under current conditions.

    1. No, no, no, no. Pods are ‘classist’. And racist. You don’t want to be racist, do you?

      Imagine how those ‘poor urban youth’ are fairing since all the rich kids will pod together. How can poor kids ever get a basic education in basic fucking subjects like basic math and basic English if there aren’t a gaggle of rich kids to pay to buff the teacher’s salary?

      Who’s going to teach those poor bastards shapes? You? You don’t even have a General Education degree!

    2. Pods, sure! And we can use those empty buildings that already have classrooms. Next we’ll hire someone to manage it, clean it, and maintain it. Perhaps we’ll pay folks to drive around in big vehicles to make it easier to collect the students. Wow, it’s amazing what you can accomplish when you think out of the box /sarc

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  8. She worries that giving the education budget directly to parents means that some would choose to avoid any kind of mixing. …

    So what?

    She also stresses the possibility that a tutor would not be well-trained…

    Horseshit. Being a licensed public school teacher doesn’t mean that only licensed public school teachers are qualified to teach kids, and many of them are not exactly “well trained” (whatever the fuck that even means) either. Fuck off, slaver.

    …, and she argues that draining the ed budget would starve what Isaacs calls an already stretched-thin, “duct tape-and-Velcro” system.

    Then let it die. And again, fuck off slaver.

    1. and she argues that draining the ed budget would starve what Isaacs calls an already stretched-thin, “duct tape-and-Velcro” system


    2. Also, teachers are not “trained”. Their schooling does not provide the information they need to teach, and their one year onsite at a school is invariably as an assistant to the real teacher. So when they finally get their own classroom it’s sink or swim.

      Good teachers might just have the right mix of demeanor and aptitude, or they might have been mentored by a good principal, they good teachers most certainly do NOT come from any sort of government orchestrated training program. A century ago they did, but we long gave up that model some time in the 50s.

      1. I suspect “well trained teacher” in this context probably means someone who has at least an undergrad in Education, which is basically 4 years worth of pro-government if not fully Marxist indoctrination at a university who’s also been taught how to apply indoctrination techniques. Which is probably why the idea of “not well trained” people teaching kids freaks them out so much. The kids might actually learn something other than how to uncritically repeat whatever horseshit the “teacher” shovels into their soft heads.

        1. ‘Well trained teacher’ means union member. Period.

      2. Its true that an education degree doesn’t teach you to teach, but from what I’ve seen (and it will vary from school to school and this example is from a poor district) the year you spend as an assistant is a year of practical work with live evaluations and even the first couple years on your own you are evaluated regularly – in classroom – by the school.

        That’s just my anecdote.

  9. perfect time to end public schooling.

    1. Or at least admit ‘publicly funded education’ does no have to mean ‘education only by public employees who are union members’.

      1. fine by me. also I would have had difficulty concentrating if the teacher chick in the photo was my teacher … at least from that view

  10. A huge cost-savings opportunity, and safer too (and not just from viruses).

    No need for expensive buildings and administrators.
    More individual attention.

    And why keep paying the mediocre local teachers (half of whom are below average) for remote learning classes, when you can take remote learning classes from the best teachers in the world online?

  11. Oh, but it helps white kids whose families have money, so it should be cancelled.

    Did you think BLM would support a society where anyone can use their money to benefit their situation?

    We need dank ass white suburban liberals to have epiphany. They’re the ones empowering Marxism. BLM and antifa are merely their on field agents.

  12. We don’t WANT to do pods. This isn’t some golden opportunity. We are exhausted, scared and desperate and we’re spending money we don’t have for schooling that isn’t as good, but it’s all we’ve got.

  13. I have two teachers in my family, my sister who started teaching in the late 80s (really from the 60s, when I was 4 she would play school, I was the student and she was the teacher), teaches math and has worked both at public and private schools. She left public to go private because they kept lowering the standards, at the end she was supposed to be teaching advanced students but to keep the numbers up they lowered the entry standards and became as bad as regular classes. She is really good at what she does which does not make her popular with those who just want to skate along but those who really want to learn mathematics love her.

    I also have a niece that started teaching about 6 years ago, and I would not want her teaching my child. Right after she started we were at a family get together and she was complaining about how when a student pushed her and she complained to the administration that did not take the kid out of class. I empathized with her, assuming she was teaching High School or Junior High…no it was Kindergarten! Now all she is talking about is if they don’t have the classroom setup for the virus to her satisfaction she is going to her union rep.

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    No teaching certificates required.
    It is viewed as a First Amendment Religious undertaking.
    The states have relatively little control over things.

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