Personalized education in the age of COVID-19
Commentary

Personalized education in the age of COVID-19

Parents around the country are getting creative with ingenious responses to the uncertainty of school as we continue to endure COVID-19.
 
Here are just a few of the options they’re choosing:
  • Hiring facilitators to work with similarly-aged kids in social bubbles. They’re following the remote learning plan implemented by their local school with in-person support.
  • Creating learning pods and micro-schools for three to five students with personalized curricula and enrichment.
  • Enrolling in remote learning camps offered by small businesses, daycare centers, and pre-schools. 
  • Participating in fee-for-service small group learning at churches, community centers, and other non-academic facilities. 
Legislators around the world are helping too:
  • The UK has launched the National Tutoring Program to offer high-quality tutoring for kids to close learning gaps. 
  • Tennessee is connecting unemployed college students with kids who are struggling academically via its Tennessee Tutoring Corp. 
  • Long Beach Unified School District is partnering with Khan Academy to pilot Schoolhouse.world, a free tutoring program that’s connecting any of the district’s 80,000 students who sign up to teachers who want to help.  
  • San Francisco is launching learning hubs for younger kids
Even universities are getting in on this by offering college credit or clinical hours to their undergrads and graduate students who step up to tutor or teach kids. There’s a lot to consider when making the decision about how to educate your kid right now. Parents are asking:
 
What is personalized education?
How do I make the choice for my kid?
Are learning pods and micro-schools safe, and how can we make them safer?
Will my kid have an unfair advantage over families who can’t afford to pay for education?
How can I continue to support equity in education now?

A primer on personalized education

✅  Learning pods: small groups of 4-6 families who agree to do coursework or supplementary learning together. It’s a commitment because families are creating social bubbles with these groups to the exclusion of other family and friends.
✅  Micro-schools: 21st-century one-room schoolhouses. They are small groups of mixed-age kids who come together to learn from a single teacher following a personalized curriculum. Micro-schools are often characterized as kids collaborating across grade levels through peer mentoring.
✅  Teaching co-ops: parents share the responsibility of instructing the kids, often leveraging their areas of expertise on particular subject matter. Some co-ops offer flexible scheduling so that essential workers can participate during their off-hours.
✅  On-campus cohorts: kids are isolated into cohorts who study, play, and eat together in the same room or outside every day. There is no contact with other cohorts. To maximize space usage, cohorts may rotate days and hours they’re on campus.
✅  Forest schools: outdoor nature-based instruction focused on learner-led exploration and discovery. Forest schools are not new, but given the data that confirms it’s more difficult to transmit COVID-19 outside, forest schools are becoming more popular.

What’s right for my family? 

This is a tough question to answer, especially during a rapidly evolving situation. Here’s a checklist of questions to helps you reach a decision that feels right for your family.

Who’s in the personalized education option we’re considering?

  • What’s the risk of exposure to COVID-19 within the group we’re considering joining?
  • How well do I know the other families and can I trust them to maintain this as their social bubble?
  • Will our kids get along?
  • We have multiple children; can they be in the same pod or do we need different pods? One family participating in multiple pods may increase the risk level for all the others.
  • Do I trust these families to follow our agreed-to “code of conduct?”

Where will it be located?

  • What is the physical set-up? If it’s in a home, who else lives there and what are the sanitary protocols in place?
  • Should we all agree to a pod hosting schedule in advance? If the pod rotates through different homes, will we all maintain the same sanitary protocols?
  • Will I have to host the pod? Do we have the appropriate space to do this? 

How’s this going to work?

  • How much learning will take place and how well will my kid be supervised?
  • If we’re hiring a teacher - 
    • How much should we pay?
    • Will we offer any benefits? 
    • Will we offer sick days to the teacher, paid or unpaid?
    • What will the payment schedule be? Should there be a sliding scale? Should the host family pay less?
  • If a kid’s parents cannot fully participate because they are essential workers, should we still offer placement? Parents on this Facebook thread say yes.

How will we stay safe?

  • Are there behaviors in the host homes we don’t agree with like smoking or vaping? Are there firearms and if there are, are they secured?
  • Are the other families exercising the same precautions we are? Are they social-distancing outside this group? Are they wearing masks when interacting with individuals who are not part of this group? 
  • Should families disclose if they are at any point, exposed to the virus? And what happens if someone is either exposed to the virus or contracts it? In a pod, each family is only as safe as the other members. If a pod member is exposed and needs to be tested or self-quarantined, it is very likely that the entire pod would need to self-quarantine.
  • Will everyone -- adults and kids -- have their temperature taken every day?

We’re in this together

It is generally a good idea to clearly articulate and document each family’s expectations for how the pod will work. Draw up a document to include:
  • Each parent’s responsibility in the pod. Consider assigning someone to be treasurer, calendar keeper, problem solver.
  • Pick up and drop off times (this can become contentious if parents are not diligent about staying on schedule).
  • Days off and holidays.
  • Lunch and snacks (confirm whether any kids have allegories all should be aware of.)
  • Supplies, including project materials, hand sanitizer, technology.
  • Pay structure for anyone hired to supervise the group (set a schedule for collecting funds from each family making payments).
  • Guidelines for student (and parent) behavior.
  • Guidelines in case a pod member is exposed.

Can I care about equity and still form a learning pod?

In a recent survey teachers nationwide said that only 60% of their students regularly participated in distance learning. Teachers of low income students and students of color reported their students were not regularly engaged in remote learning. Now as we enter a new school year, it’s likely the knowledge gap will widen. 
 
Laurel Glover, who previously taught 4th grade in Little Rock, Arkansas with Teach for America, returned to her parents’ home in Austin, Texas when the pandemic hit. She continued to teach her 28 students remotely. Since returning to Texas, Laurel has been connecting tutors and teachers with families in learning pods. It’s been a double blessing - not just for the students, but for some of her friends who have been out of work. Laurel and her colleagues are committed to providing opportunities for all students and are tutoring a number of students free of charge in the evenings in addition to their thirty students in pods.
 
Her experience points to the disparity in opportunity for students in under-resourced communities. In her own words,
 
The virtual learning I was doing with my students in Arkansas during the last few months was very different from the virtual learning that was happening in Austin. There was a general sense everywhere that this was very overwhelming and no one seemed to know how to handle it, but with my students in Arkansas, I spent a significant amount of time with AT & T and wi-fi companies trying to get wi-fi to my students. And I was coordinating how they could come to pick up a Chromebook from the school. I was making sure my students were okay and that they had the food they needed and that they were emotionally healthy. I was just there being as stable as I possibly could be for them because everything in their world was changing so much. The focus was less on actual education and more on making sure people were okay.
 
In Austin parents are going to extreme measures to make sure their students are excelling academically.  I think that’s great, but it’s a very different mindset than where I was in Arkansas. I’m working with 2nd graders down here who are already higher level readers than my 4th graders in Arkansas because my 4th graders don’t have the same opportunity. That keeps me up at night…
 
This was first published in our weekly newsletter edition on July 30, 2020.