With more than half of U.S. K-12 students enrolled in districts providing no in-person instruction, and many more districts considering moving to all-remote learning due to spiking COVID-19 infection rates—including recent closures in NY, CO, and CA—pressures are mounting on parents to find ways to guide, support, and supplement their children’s education.
We know that many parents who can afford it are enrolling their children in private tutoring and small group learning programs also known as “pandemic pods.” Learning pods are, overall, a promising idea. However, only higher income parents can afford them, which exacerbates already wide opportunity gaps in our current public education system.
Recent polling we did in Wisconsin found that a majority of voters have similar concerns: 73% of likely voters indicated they were somewhat or very concerned that private pods would worsen opportunity gaps. These concerns were even higher among Black and Democratic voters, with 87% and 85% voicing concern, respectively.
To promote greater educational equity, we think it makes sense to establish publicly funded, evidence-based, one-on-one tutoring programs and pandemic pods, especially for those students who are the most ill-served by remote and hybrid COVID learning models. These could be run by school districts, colleges and universities, or non-profit community-based organizations.
As outlined in our recent brief, high-dosage tutoring (HDT) is a proven method for improving academic achievement, while also providing students with social-emotional support from a consistent mentor. While the unprecedented nature of the pandemic makes replicating existing models difficult, integrating the qualities of HDT that we know work (daily , 1 on 1 or very small group instruction with a consistent instructor, integrated in the normal school schedule) as much as possible could help close opportunity gaps for students unable to access private pods.
And our polling shows strong support for those options: 72% of likely Wisconsin voters favor public schools creating their own version of pods for low-income families and 73% of respondents support publicly funded tutoring delivered by non-profit, community-based organizations. As with school-based pods, while a majority of voters across party and racial lines support CBO-based pods, support is highest among Black and Democratic voters, with nearly 90% of supporting these pods.
Some, mostly relatively small, efforts to provide tutoring or pods to students most in need of them have already been mounted:
- This past summer, former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam created the “Tennessee Tutoring Corps, a privately funded small group tutoring program in collaboration with Boys and Girls Clubs. Assessments and instruction were aligned with state academic standards.
- In Cleveland, a community-based organization called the Best Community Resource Center operates a mobile classroom that provide students with wifi and tutoring.
- In Fresno, California the district spent $280,000 of their CARES Act funding to provide students access to virtual tutoring.
- Anchorage elementary schools are bringing small groups of students into school buildings to receive tutoring and enrichment activities.
- Last month, Vox reported that a number of non-profits are establishing ad-hoc tutoring programs.
Since state and local funding is scarce, we think the best bet to provide additional instructional supports is through the federal government, which could supply funds so that students can increase the number of hours they are involved in in-person instruction. A recent CAP brief outlined how a federal program could be structured, as well as cost estimates for scaling up tutoring. In the shorter term, via a “COVID-4” relief bill, Congress could allow states and districts to utilize to funds to build public education versions of pandemic pods and tutoring, tapping underutilized human capital and creating a career path to teaching with an emphasis on diversifying the teaching force.