The Runback: Pod People

Local Education Pods aren't as simple as some people think they are

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Thing That Made Me Speechless

The Monday Thought

There has been a lot of talk on the internet about creating, for lack of a better term, local education pods.

The premise goes something like this: it costs roughly $15,000 per year to educate a child. Why doesn’t the government give parents the $15,000 this school year to the parents, who can pool together with ten other parents to hire a teacher for $150,000 and create a ten-student “education pod”. That teacher will teach all of the students, and will do so by providing students extra, hands-on assistance.

Look, the idea sounds good on paper. As somebody who supports school vouchers for public school students in normal times, the idea of a voucher program to create pods sounds good at the 50 foot level.

It’s when you start thinking about the actual ramifications and complications of such a program that you start running into problems in a hurry.

Here, in no particular order, is a partial list of complications and challenges an “Education Pod” system would create:

  1. Many states, such as Maryland, have a requirement in their state constitutions to provide a free system of quality public education. How do you convince political leaders and the courts that a Pod system meets those requirements?

  2. Many states have requirements regarding teacher qualifications, requiring that any teacher who teaches a student who is not their parent and guardian be a certified teacher. Will these pods hire only certified teachers and, if not, how would a Pod plan to get around this legal requirement?

  3. What grade-level would the Pods be? Would a teacher be expected to teach a Pod that include 1st, 3rd, 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th graders all at the same time?

  4. How would students in a Pod get arts education?

  5. How would students in the Pod get physical education?

  6. How would students in the Pod receive foreign language instruction?

  7. How will teachers teach the subject matter? Most teachers are qualified to teach certain subject matter. Is the expectation that a middle school home economics teacher should be capable of teacher high school algebra?

  8. Where will the Pod meet? At somebody’s house? Will a room need to be secured? How will the Pod meet social distancing requirements? Will the Pods be required by state and local authorities to meet certain safety standards?

  9. Where will the curriculum come from? Will a curriculum be purchased? If so, will that come out of the $150,000 earmarked for the teacher? Will the teacher be expected to create a curriculum on their own? Will teachers attempt to take their curriculum with them even though that is a copyright violation?

  10. Where will learning materials come from? Will the teachers and/or parents commit copyright violations by copying materials? Will the cost of materials come out of the $150,000 earmarked for the teacher?

  11. Who is doing administration work? Is somebody ensuring the teacher’s social security gets paid into? Do they get a 401k? Do they get health insurance? Do those items come out of the $150,000 earmarked for the teacher?

  12. What happens if the teacher needs a sick day? Is school canceled for that day? What happens if the teacher gets COVID-19? Is school canceled until they are recovered?

  13. What happens to special needs students who may need extra attention and support? Is the expectation that special needs students will be segregated in pods of their own? How will that impact their development? Is there an expectation that one teacher will be assigned ten special education students without an assistant? If there is an assistance, will the assistant be paid out of the $150,000 earmarked for the teacher?

  14. What happens to the physical plant of the school? If the money is taken out of education funding, how do you pay for the existing public school buildings that students will eventually return to?

  15. What happens to students who can’t find a pod to belong to?

  16. What happens to students in places that a pod cannot be created?

And there are more potential issues out there waiting to be discovered.

Don’t get my wrong; the ingenuity of the people who first proposed the idea is fantastic. But unfortunately, the issue becomes very complicated very quickly. It is one of many issues these days where people create a utopian solution that may work at the micro-level but becomes is not tenable at the macro-level when you expand it across a county or across the state. Not every solution that makes sense is doable. Not every idea is one that can be implemented, no matter how well meaning the idea may be.

Education pods paid for by school vouchers is a great idea at first. But for so many reasons, it just won’t work the way its proponents think it would.