Learning pods: an innovation that will increase education opportunities in Tennessee


May 20, 2021 3:35PM

With the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine, many people are hopeful for life to quickly return to normal. During the pandemic, however, people all over the country began to question if the old way of doing things could be done better and if what we knew as “normal” was the best way to do things. In response to the pandemic and changing landscape, businesses adapted, like distillers shifting from making beverages to hand sanitizer and new businesses were started at record levels. Everyone adjusted, from teenagers creating products in their garage to multinational corporations providing new services.

Something similar happened in education. As some schools closed their doors and switched to a virtual platform, parents unhappy with the district’s choice began to look for other options, and in the process, became innovators themselves. 

One of those innovations was learning pods, which are when families come together and form a miniature classroom in a home or other available space. These small groups of students meet in person and are taught by a parent or other instructional guide. With their benefits and adaptability, learning pods quickly began popping up all over the country. While not initially created during the pandemic, learning pods expanded in popularity as parents that were not happy with their school district’s virtual platform began creating educational spaces for their children. A big selling point for many families was that pods provided much desired social interaction, something that was lacking in virtual classes. This educational innovation was great news for rural students, who have historically had fewer educational options than urban and suburban students.

While students in populated areas typically had the options to attend a different public school, a local charter school, or a private school (if the family could afford it), rural students have usually faced a take-it-or-leave-it situation when their only option for education is their local public school or homeschooling. But with the uptick in learning pods and other innovations like microschools, rural students have now been given access to additional educational opportunities. These education models are a near-perfect fit for rural areas, as they are designed around a small number of students and welcome multiple age ranges. Rural parents can now access personalized, catered education for their children in their current location, where a traditional private or charter school may not currently be operating or viable.

Due to the historical lack of educational freedom afforded to rural students, Beacon decided to take a look into the unique aspects of rural education. Our recent report, Acres of Opportunity: Education in Rural Tennessee, not only found that there are serious issues to be addressed in rural districts but there are proven policy solutions that could be implemented to increase and protect educational freedom in all areas across Tennessee. Rural students specifically have immense opportunities to benefit from educational freedom.

Even as more schools have begun to open their doors and return to in-person learning, Tennesseans should continue to look to innovate in the educational space. Increasing access to and opportunities for a quality education should be something every Tennessean supports. Lawmakers have a large role to play in building on these innovations by protecting the right of parents to form learning pods and other future innovations that increase educational access to any and all Tennessee students. With education being a great equalizer, lawmakers should look to expand and protect equal educational freedom to all Tennessee families.

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