Fed up with remote education, parents who can pay have a new plan for fall: import teachers to their homes.
This goes beyond tutoring. In some cases, families are teaming up to form ‘‘pandemic pods,’’ where clusters of students receive professional instruction for several hours each day. It’s a 2020 version of the one-room schoolhouse, privately funded.
Weeks before the new school year will start, the trend is a stark sign of how the pandemic will continue to drive inequity in the nation’s education system. But the parents planning or considering this say it’s an extreme answer to an extreme situation.
With coronavirus infections rising in large swaths of the country, school districts in many big cities and suburbs are planning to start the fall with distance learning, either every day or for part of the week.
President Trump has implored schools to resume in full, and many health experts agree, partly because remote learning went so poorly for so many in the spring. But many local leaders say the health risks are too great. Children do not get particularly sick from COVID-19, but less is known about whether they can spread it to others.
Parents are worried about health risks, too. But they are also worried their children will fall behind. And they fear they will be unable to work, even from home, while supervising children.
‘‘We had lots of family discussions about what we wanted to do, and is it worth it to pay extra, and we said yes,’’ said Katie Franklin, who has a 7-year-old daughter and lives in Herndon, in northern Virginia. She is in talks with a few other families to hire a teacher to share. The estimated cost for her family: at least $500 per month.
Across the country, families are gathering with strangers in Facebook groups and friends over text messages to make matches. Teachers are being recruited, sometimes furtively, to work with small clusters of children. A Facebook group dedicated to helping families connect and learn how to do this drew 3,400 members in nine days, with at least seven local groups already spun off.
‘‘This is a thing now,’’ said Phil Higgins, a psychotherapist in Salem, Mass., who joined with two other families to hire a woman to create a ‘‘pseudo summer camp’’ for their four children this summer. They are now considering hiring this woman, who normally works as a school-based behavioral specialist, as a teacher for 40 hours per week during the school year. She would help the kids work through their school-offered remote learning.
‘‘We wanted someone who could do a better job at home-schooling than any of us felt like we did,’’ Higgins said. He said the cost would be about $1,300 per child per month.
In Lower Merion Township, a suburb of Philadelphia, Carrie Pestronk and her two sons struggled through remote learning in the spring. If it continues into fall, she wants to make school-from-home as normal as possible. She’s trying to recruit a handful of other children and a teacher — perhaps someone finishing college or graduate school — to teach from her basement.
Alexandra Marshak, who lives in Manhattan with her husband and two young sons, is exploring a learning pod with three other families. The original idea was that parents would take turns teaching, rotating hosting duties. But then one parent suggested they rent a studio apartment for the venture. They are also now considering hiring a professional to do the teaching. Marshak, who is out of work, said she’s concerned about spiraling costs. But at this point, she said, ‘‘Everything is on the table.’’
Not everyone can afford truly private education, and these arrangements are raising concerns that this is just another way that the pandemic is exacerbating inequities that course through the educational system. Already low-income children struggle for access to computers and Wi-Fi service and face pressures at home that wealthy families do not. Now this.
These arrangements will allow children with affluent parents and connections to get ahead even as the system makes it harder for other children, said L’Heureux Lewis-McCoy, a sociology of education professor at New York University. He calls it a fresh example of ‘‘opportunity hoarding.’’
He wishes that parents would also work with their schools to find solutions for all children, by pooling resources, for instance.
‘‘Most parents will act in the interest of their child and you can’t tell them not to,’’ he said. ‘‘I say, ‘Act in the interest of your child, and add some equity to it.’ ”
In Broward County, Fla., Christy Kian, who used to teach at a private school, said she will make more money this school year educating four children in two families — one in the morning and one in the afternoon. After setting this up, she said, she was contacted by five other families seeking similar arrangements.
‘‘While it’s benefiting me, it’s also benefiting them,’’ she said. ‘‘They are having individual private education.’’