learning Pod'-style

‘Pod’-style learning benefits affluent kids and exacerbates education inequality — but it does address 3 key issues. Here’s how to solve those problems equitably. – Business Insider

  • Jessica Calarco is an associate professor of sociology at Indiana University, Bloomington and the author of Negotiating Opportunities: How the Middle Class Secures Advantages in School and A Field Guide to Grad School: Navigating the Hidden Curriculum.
  • The idea of pod-style learning for kids has gained more stream recently, with some parents pulling children out of school and hiring tutors or experienced teachers.
  • Many have rightfully critiqued pods for perpetuating systemic inequities by further segregating public education and reducing the available resources for marginalized children.
  • To address the valid concerns that podding parents may have, Calarco says parents should instead push for more funding to create smaller class sizes in public schools. For childcare, they should consider childcare co-ps and turn to social pods for socialization.

With the pandemic still raging, many schools across the country are opting not to reopen full-time. Some are switching to full-time online instruction, and others are opting for hybrid models where students attend school a few days a week and spend the rest learning at home.

Those plans are creating problems for employed parents, who once again have to figure out how to do their work while their kids are learning from home. Reflecting back on their less-than-optimal experiences with online learning last spring, many of those working parents, and stay-at-home parents, too, are also concerned about whether their kids will get enough academic support and social interaction if they’re not physically going to school.

Faced with those challenges, some parents — especially affluent, white parents — have proposed using a “pod”-style model to support kids’ learning at home. And these pods are taking a number of different forms. Some pod parents pull kids out of school entirely, while others use pods to complement online school. Meanwhile, some pod parents share the work of teaching among themselves, while others hire a babysitter, a paid tutor, or even a highly-trained, experienced teacher to teach all the kids in the pod. And, complicating things even further, some pods have meet-ups in-person, while others exist solely online. Advertisement

Jessica Calarco.Courtesy of Jessica Calarco

As talk of these new learning pods has flooded social media, some scholars and educators have pushed back. They argue that learning pods — especially if they involve paid teachers or pulling kids out of public school — will further segregate public education and reduce resources for low-income students and students of color, who will disproportionately be left out of learning pods.

These critiques are important, but they have stopped short of offering parents a more equitable alternative to private learning pods.


To find that more equitable alternative, we have to take a step back and look for the problem that parents are trying to solve. From that perspective, it’s easy to see that learning pods, and especially learning pods with a paid private teacher or tutor, are an appealing solution because they solve three key problems that result when school goes online:

  • A lack of hands-on instructional support (which makes it hard for kids to learn effectively),
  • A lack of childcare during the workday (which makes it hard for parents to get their work done),
  • And a lack of social interaction among kids (which puts kids’ mental health at risk).

If parents want to avoid exacerbating inequalities in schooling, they have to tackle these problems separately, with separate solutions.

Pods with private teachers or tutors aren’t the only way to get kids the hands-on instruction they need. Instead, small class sizes offer an effective and more equitable solution.

In practice, this would mean hiring enough teachers so that each kid can have a small class (<10) taught by a single teacher, in-person (if it's safe to do so) or online. Those classes would be small enough to promote more effective online instruction, reducing the need for parental involvement at home. And those classes would also be small enough to reduce the spread of the virus in schools that reopen this year. Adverti

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