Keeping Up In The Classroom

Oakland Educators Concerned ‘Learning Pods' Will Widen Education Gap

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Local parents are doing a different kind of back-to-school shopping as schools prepare for another round of all-online learning.

Parents are trying to create small learning pods for their kids and are shopping around for tutors to lead them. But many principals with the Oakland Unified School District are worried, saying learning pods will only widen the education gap. 

There’s just two weeks left until the new school year begins for Oakland’s 50,000 public school students and 14 days until a return to online learning, one that the district promises will be more structured than the spring.  

“I’m excited to meet my new class,” said Vilma Serrano. “Along with that excitement is a lot of concerns about how this year will play out.

Serrano is a transitional kindergarten teacher at Melrose Leadership Academy in East Oakland. 

Some of those concerns are over the rising popularity of pandemic pods. Parents across the country are pooling together money to create learning pods for their children, often led by a private tutor, in charge of supervising school work in a group setting. 

“I have a lot of concerns about equity and about the potential for re-segregation based on class and race,” Serrano said and she’s not alone.

A letter signed by 14 OUSD school principals raises the same fears that learning pods will only deepen learning inequalities. Principals from schools – primarily from the city’s more affluent neighborhoods – signed this letter telling parents they will not accommodate requests from pandemic pod parents to place their students together in the same class. 

“There’s a lot that goes into planning one classroom, who is in a classroom all that,” said John Sasaki, OUSD spokesperson. 

Sasaki says if parents commit to joining a pod in the fall, the district hopes the families do it safely and that they offer slots to families with less means. 

“I would hope that maybe you would invite kids perhaps from across town as well,” he said.

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