8 things to know about the growing role of COVID learning pods

'Vast majority' of learning hubs are not managed by school systems, analysis finds
By: | February 12, 2021
Many learning pods formed in response to COVID support the most vulnerable students though gaps in access for low-income families and students with specific needs persist.( AdobeStock/bsd555)Many learning pods formed in response to COVID support the most vulnerable students though gaps in access for low-income families and students with specific needs persist. (AdobeStock/bsd555)

Learning pods formed in response to COVID school closures have only grown during the pandemic, and may become a permanent part of education going forward.

Community-based organizations and other adults are playing a much bigger role in educating students and supporting families, according to a new analysis by the Center on Reinventing Public Education, or CRPE, at the University of Washington Bothell.

“There is room for more learning pods to take advantage of their flexible nature to provide more well-rounded support,” says the authors of the analysis.

CRPE maintains a national database of nearly 330 learning hubs with publicly available information.


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The Cleveland Metropolitan School District, for example, partnered with community-based organizations to create free learning pods for students who are struggling academically, those who are homeless, and other vulnerable students.

However, the vast majority of these learning pods being tracked are not managed by school systems, and nearly half have been organized by nonprofit organizations such as the YMCA, Boys & Girls Clubs and science museums. Most these programs also take place outside school facilities.

Here are other key findings from the analysis:

  • Many pods support the most vulnerable students though gaps in access persist
  • Most pods are open for any student to enroll
  • One a few of the learning pods are facilitated by teachers or other school staff
  • Children of essential workers and from low-income households are most commonly prioritized by learning pods
  • Most learning pods charge a fee, half of which provide scholarship or sliding-scales
  • The majority of the pods in the database serve elementary-age students, leaving middle school and high school students underserved
  • Most pods provide supervision and virtual learning support

CRPE is also launching a national research initiative to map the learning pod landscape and detail innovative approaches and best practices. The center also intends to identify policy barriers that may prevent the formation of learning pods and how they can be overcome.


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