This week on “The Learning Curve,” Cara and Gerard talk with Amar Kumar, founder and CEO of KaiPod Learning, a network of in-person education centers for online learners and homeschoolers, based in Massachusetts. They discuss how the pandemic dramatically changed parents’ sentiments about their traditional public schools, opening the door to wider private school choice options, including homeschooling, micro schools, and pods. Mr. Kumar explains how his experiences in teaching, school leadership, and business drove him to launch KaiPod, and how he is navigating the Bay State’s regulatory obstacles to educational entrepreneurship. He distinguishes between “Zoom school” and the poor-quality remote learning that took place during the pandemic, and high-quality online and hybrid learning. Mr. Kumar shares thoughts on the notable uptick in demand among parents of color for wider private and public-school choice options, and how KaiPod is working to serve at-risk student populations.
Stories of the Week: How much learning loss occurred among college students during the pandemic? We don’t know, because higher education institutions don’t invest in the tools to measure it. In North Carolina, the state’s highest court ruled that the state must provide sufficient school funding to fulfill the constitutional mandate that all children have access to an equitable public education.
Amar Kumar is the founder and CEO of KaiPod Learning and has been working to improve education for students around the world for over 15 years. In addition to having been a teacher, a school principal, and a consultant in McKinsey’s Education practice, Amar was the Chief Product Officer for Pearson Online & Blended Learning for seven years. In that role, Amar designed and built the technology and curriculum that served more than 400,000 students in Connections Academy schools and school districts around the country. During the pandemic and through KaiPod Learning, Amar transitioned into an education entrepreneur, creating a new learning environment to support families that are seeking individualized and flexible learning options through online learning and homeschooling. Amar earned a Bachelor of Science in computer science from Purdue University and an MBA from Harvard Business School.
The next episode will air on Weds., November 16th, with Alisha Thomas Searcy, the Democratic nominee for Georgia state school superintendent.
Tweet of the Week:
Many states have stepped forward with a range of education savings accounts (#ESAs) ? and #microgrant programs to enable families to afford different choices – https://t.co/KjGeiN0Lnu @Forbes pic.twitter.com/IRMtEdmu5P
— Michael B. Horn (@michaelbhorn) November 8, 2022
Higher education’s ‘biggest scandal’ may not be what you think
North Carolina Supreme Court Issues Emphatic Ruling, Demanding that the State of North Carolina Provide a Right to a Quality Education In Leandro v. North Carolina
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Read a Transcript of This Episode
Please excuse typos.
[00:00:00] GR: Hello listeners, this is Gerard Robinson coming to you from beautiful, leaf-covered Charlottesville, Virginia, where I just had a chance to pull together eight bags of leaves. I’ve been on the road a lot like Willie Nelson on the road again and back home and did my civic duty of voting. And for many of you listening to this, this is post vote date.
[00:00:46] We know that some elections have been called and some are still in the making. And so I’m with my colleague, Cara, what was it like for you in Massachusetts?
[00:00:59] Cara: [00:01:00] Let’s see, in a word, voting in this election in Massachusetts was anti-climactic. we’ll just put it that way. there are a lot of hotly contested races.
[00:01:10] There were a lot of hotly contested races throughout the country. Here, not much of a contest. We had a couple ballot initiatives that I think were getting people to the polls, millionaires tax, liquor licenses things like that. But I gotta tell you in there, our gubernatorial race was like, I think the winner was presumed a winner for
[00:01:31] A long, long time, Gerard. So I’m watching other states as I know you are. But did my civic duty voted and yeah, I talk about leafy. I am good, good on you. Raking those leaves. I just make my kids jump in ’em, make the dog . I tell my kids to rake ’em and then they don’t. So, , I’m hoping to maybe, like, maybe we’ll mow right over them.
[00:01:52] It’ll be a good compost for the yard. Maybe make my yard prettier next summer.
[00:01:56] GR: Sounds great. So we know you’ve done your civic duty [00:02:00] and now you and I are gonna do our duty to our, our learning curve duty here at the learning curve. Yep. Oh, . I had not thought about that. That’s definitely mom and dad. Humor.
[00:02:10] Let’s just see. We’re going to do our, we’re going do our responsibility. Now moving on from Bob voting duty, what is your story of the week?
[00:02:19] Cara: Oh, I love my story of the week. So, This is entitled Higher Education’s Biggest Scandal. May not be what you think. It’s an opinion piece. In the Philadelphia Inquirer, and it’s written by Professor Jonathan Zimmerman, who teaches education and history at the University of Pennsylvania.
[00:02:40] Now, Gerard, you’ve taught courses at institutions of Higher Education, have you not?
[00:02:45] GR: I do still do. Okay.
[00:02:47] Cara: Mm-hmm. , well, as you as you can relate, I mean, so I did my doctoral work at an institution that I’ve probably already named, but I won’t right now since I’m about to be super critical. I did my doctoral work at an institution here in the Boston area, and [00:03:00] then taught there both as a research assistant professor and an adjunct later and adjunct faculty member for about 10 years.
[00:03:07] I love Professor Zimmerman’s opinion piece because he talks about the evaluation of teaching in higher education. And I gotta tell you something, Jordan, in the 10 years that I taught at this institution of higher education, never once, not once did anybody actually come to observe my teaching give me feedback on my.
[00:03:30] I received feedback on my syllabus every once in a while when I taught about topics that were deemed to um, let’s just call them choicey charter schools and things like that, but nobody ever, And so, you know, we would do these perfunctory, as I think happens at many universities, student evaluations of teaching, which were always my favorite because I would get comments that ranged from like, good teacher but could have done X, Y, and Z better to really liked her.
[00:03:55] I mean, critiques of like wardrobe and things like that have absolutely [00:04:00] nothing to do with my teaching. I mean, thank you. I did probably put a lot of thought into the shoes, but you know, George, so what this is about Professor Zimmerman in this article, he asked the question. He says, You know, we’ve been talking about a lot about learning loss in K to 12, but what do we know about learning loss at the college level?
[00:04:17] And he. Evidence saying that a nationwide survey, for example, of 2000 students in June, 2021, showed that over half of surveyed college students believed that they’d learned less in the previous year than they had before Covid. and he’s saying like, how do we know other than student reports?
[00:04:35] Because there are really no incentives in higher education. To be a good teacher, and this is in spite of emerging research that shows what makes for good teaching in terms of like how college students, you know, adult learning is different from the way children learn because you have different, you’ve got experience to build on for one thing, but , , he’s talking about the fact that we [00:05:00] know what could make for good teaching.
[00:05:02] We know that, college students, Need to engage in discourse and critical analytical thinking, but nobody cares whether or not professors are doing it. And you and I know that’s because what’s valued in the vast majority. Not all, like certainly community colleges might be a different story. But in the vast majority of institutions of higher education in this country, especially research institutions, it’s research that matters.
[00:05:25] It’s research that gets professors tenure. It’s research that gets professors accolades and promotions and things like that. And. The extent to which anybody is checking up on what’s going on with classrooms, how students really feel about teaching, and bottom line, what is going to help them after college.
[00:05:44] Maybe if they choose graduate school or career or whatever it is. we just don’t know. We have soft feedback from students about people’s shoes for the most part. and very little evidence that what professors are doing is making a difference. And this just kills me. It killed. Gerard is [00:06:00] somebody who worked in an institution of higher education.
[00:06:02] But I gotta tell you, it kills me more as a parent who is trying to save, to send three kids to college. Whether or not they choose to go, you know, we’re committed to doing what we can to save for it. And I don’t have to tell you, there’s no easy feat. There’s lots of stuff I would like to spend that money on, like a new pair of.
[00:06:21] But we’re not gonna do that. And so wondering what the return on investment is and how we will ever figure that out other than, if my kids go on to have the kind of career that’s gonna satisfy them, that they want, will I ever know if that was due to college or just because they went to this place and happen to earn a degree?
[00:06:37] Whether or not they learned anything. So, Gerard, as somebody who’s also had the experience of teaching in higher ed, I would love to know if you disagree or agree with me on this.
[00:06:47] GR: I’m in the middle, and I should also note that while what I’m gonna say wasn’t in a formal evaluation, I had one student after several classes walk up to me and say, Can I ask you a question?
[00:06:59] I [00:07:00] said, Yes. I was assuming it was about the course. He
[00:07:02] GR: said, How do you keep
[00:07:04] GR: the underarm portion of your white so white? They’re not. Yes,
[00:07:09] GR: that was question
[00:07:13] GR: I said, Well, I don’t use a lot of starch in my shirt. It was just so out of the blue, but I just thought I’d throw it in when you mentioned the part about shoes.
[00:07:20] So I’m more in the middle and, and here’s why I am fine. With not having another professional walking to a tenured professor’s class to watch her or him teach by the time someone gets tenure. And we can debate the pros and cons of that. And I support tenure for higher ed. Let me say that up front.
[00:07:39] That part really wouldn’t drive me. If you are a brand new teacher or professor and you’re within one to three years, and someone who is either in your department or if you want to keep it cleaner, someone outside of your. May wanna go in once or twice a semester just to take a look. I’m fine with that.
[00:07:58] But if the university [00:08:00] says, Well, listen, we can’t pick winners and losers, either everyone’s gonna do it or no one’s gonna do it. I can live with, no one’s going to do it. Part of it is, what you said. Our one schools or research one schools, you are really defined by what you produce. And so I’m fine with that.
[00:08:14] Number two, I’m not sure how much bang for the buck will actually get on such observations. We also, particularly in the environment we live in right now there will be legitimate as well as, Possibly questionable concerns about whether or not Gerard is a black person, whether I need to have a male interview, me or a woman, whether or I need to have an African American who may see things that someone else may not.
[00:08:38] Whether or not I’m in, let’s say, policy, whether I should have someone from philosophy or no one from law, I’m not sure, but I can live with us not having anyone I happen to have. Professor Zimmerman here in Charlottesville at an event we hosted earlier this year. He’s a great historian, particularly on higher ed and so on.
[00:08:57] This one, I would say, yeah, I hear his point, but I can [00:09:00] live with no evaluation in the classroom for teachers, for
[00:09:03] Cara: professors. There you have it, Gerard. I mean, there have people Gerard. Gerard doesn’t wanna be a val. I’m just kidding. All I’m talking . All I’m saying is that, I can’t remember this guy’s name, but my undergraduate biology teacher.
[00:09:16] Indiana University, 1995. Somebody had to go in and tell that guy, this was probably pre PowerPoint, Dear God. We were probably using, what do you call them?
[00:09:27] GR: Right,
[00:09:27] Cara: yeah. Go in and tell that guy that nobody was listening to stop lecturing and just at least ask a few questions of the audience.
[00:09:36] That’s all I’m saying, just basic feedback. But I digress. Gerard, we will agree to disagree on this. We will. I, I’d like to hear from the listeners on this, so I don’t know. What do you do? Do they tweet at us? You and I are so, so savvy about these things. Jar, , what’s your story of the week?
[00:09:52] GR: So my story of the week is from the field of law, speaking of lawyers, and on our show we’ve had a few people who’ve talked about [00:10:00] education policy.
[00:10:00] We’ve had a number of lawyers on, and one lawyer that we had, a professor I should say, is Professor Kimley Robinson at the University of Virginia. And she is a part of a cohort of scholars who are trying to push for. Federal Right to education or a state right to education. They’ll even take the conjunction ad.
[00:10:19] Well, we know that, Going back to the Rodriguez case of 1973, the US Supreme Court said there is no federal right to education. And throughout the seventies, eighties, even in the nineties, there were a litany of school finance cases, partly driven by the idea that if we have more funding for students, we’ll have more equity and better outcomes.
[00:10:39] The other forum was, well tell you. Until we close the achievement gap, we’re not gonna have a lot in terms of affirmative action of the part. So people began to say, Well, we’ve walked that lane with some mixed results. Well, in the last decade, a number of scholars and professors and activists have said, Why don’t we look.
[00:10:57] At our state constitution, identify a [00:11:00] phrase and then say, Well, guess what? You are not doing this. And in the absence of doing this, there should be a state right to education. Well, for those who are in that lane, are gonna be pretty excited because earlier this week, the North Carolina Supreme Court issued a ruling that the state of North Carolina needs to provide a right to a quality education.
[00:11:22] Something that the court said it had not. For over 17 years now, let’s go backward to 1994, when the case was first put forward there were a number of school districts in North Carolina. There were low income districts who said, Listen, we are not being funded properly. A number of groups got together.
[00:11:41] Naacp I would say other groups, a number of them come under the umbrella of the lawyers committee for. Rights under law. And that’s worth mentioning because that group was formed in 1963 in part by the request for John F. Kennedy to try to mobilize the nation’s leading civil right lawyers to come together as the agent for [00:12:00] change.
[00:12:00] So in 94, they’ve filed a suit and there were a number of suits filed over the years. What the court said during the years that, listen, there are some challenges, but we don’t want to be the legislative body. We’re the judicial body. We interpret. Well, according to the Supreme Court in North Carolina, and according to one article the ruling or the votes were primarily on party lines.
[00:12:22] But one of the justices, Associate Justice Robin Hudson said that the state has frankly failed to provide a sound basic education. That’s the phrase. Identified in the constitution sound basic education. They said they’ve done it for 17 years, and now the court must step in. Well, you and I lived in states where courts, state and federal have had to weigh in.
[00:12:45] On a host of issues because they figure either A, the State Department of Education wasn’t doing its job, or the legislature in fact was dragging its feet to make it happen. Well, this is a big win for a right to education for those [00:13:00] proponents because there’s work right now in Michigan and California.
[00:13:04] There’s also work in Minnesota. But this court said, Hey, it’s gotta happen. I’m on face value. Excited to see the court at least take a. When we don’t see the legislature doing enough, Yeah, the court should step in. I’m also wondering what will this mean for public charter schools? When you say sound public education, I agree.
[00:13:24] Charter schools are public. I also look at the number of organizations that are supporting this legislation. Most of them don’t support charter schools and surely don’t support private school choice. So I am optimistic, Cautious, optimistic part that, yeah. Would not of the court. The legislature’s gonna have to do something cautious is how do we define sound?
[00:13:46] Basic education, And if it does not include public schools, all public schools. More importantly, if it does not include charter schools, what includes magnet schools? I’m just not sure how that’s a sound. Basic education. Your thoughts. [00:14:00]
[00:14:00] Cara: Oh, well, I think, those of us that think about these things a lot, I, I agree with you.
[00:14:04] This is really important because historically, it’s the courts that really change the game when it comes to public education, the provision of public education, investments in public education, had we not lawsuits adequacy lawsuits in places like Kentucky, Massachusetts. the list can go on.
[00:14:25] We wouldn’t have had the reforms that led to, you know, wait for it. And I don’t want anybody to get Ana here, but no child left behind, which I think still, people can say what they want and, not like the result of it, but without legislation like that, that was prompted. Lawsuits in states.
[00:14:45] We would never be in a place where we could even sit around a dinner table and, understand what data looked like, understand how schools are failing large swaths of children, like the ability to shine a light on under performance. And [00:15:00] by the way for those who, hate testing, but love money and love pouring money into schools sometimes money does matter.
[00:15:07] I know we’ve had guests on this show that would say, Well, be careful what you say, but what you spend money on does matter. and a lot of that, the reform. That have helped us to focus what we spend money on in schools sometimes with good outcomes are driven by the court.
[00:15:23] So I would agree. I think this is really important to your point about public charter schools, because this is, I could see Gerard some rogue legislatures. Trying to go after this at the behest of, political groups and other stakeholders that don’t like charter schools.
[00:15:40] But I think at the end of the day most of our charter school statutes, well, with the exception of a handful, I’m sure our, you know, in Idaho, they can’t even call them charter schools, but that’s another story. Are, strong. That it should be clear in the legal sense, you know, obviously I’m not a lawyer, that these [00:16:00] schools are indeed public schools and should be, considered such for the purposes of anything going forward.
[00:16:05] I don’t know, maybe we need to have , one of our charter school friends on to explain this to us. But it’s a good story. I think this is a really important one. And you know, I will just say with regard to the work that’s going on to codify a federal right to education I don’t think you or.
[00:16:19] See that the federal government should have a ton of involvement in what is essentially a state endeavor, the provision of education. But the federal government certainly does have a major role to play. One of the major roles federal government plays is in research, categorical funding like Title one, obviously, but research in data gathering.
[00:16:38] But the other. You know, the federal government is there to outline basic rights, one of which should be the right to education, which by the way I’ll point out, is not only in international law, , I mean in international law, technically parents have a right to direct the education of their children, which happens in many other countries.
[00:16:57] And many other countries, probably countries that some [00:17:00] in our country would consider undeveloped or underdeveloped. And I’m using air quotes here if you can’t see them codify right to education. Whether or not it’s enforced is a different story and how we would do that here is another situation.
[00:17:14] But thank you very much for that commentary. .
[00:17:17] GR: And one thing I wanted to follow up in terms of putting this in context is to at least give a shout out to Julius Chambers. Now he’s passed. Many people who are reformers may not know him for a hol of reasons. Even if you’re a civil rights attorney, depending on where you went to school.
[00:17:33] He was the third director council of naacp. Defense fund serving from 1984 to 93. He argued a number of Supreme Court cases one of them being Swan v Charlotte Berg School of Education in 1971, which was a major case, not only for North Carolina but for desegregation. He spoke at the University of Virginia School of Law AIDS ago and had a chance to meet him. One of the things that he mentioned, I wanna put in context is that this is a historic [00:18:00] case. He was a part of the early legislation, but I wanna put in mind that he talked about what it was like growing up in segregated south in North Carolina. This guy finished first in his at UNC Law School.
[00:18:13] He was the first African American editor in chief of the Law Review, and yet to not find a. At a white firm because of segregation. Mm-hmm. . So it wasn’t merit, it was skin color. When he started getting involved in civil right cases, whether education or voting or employment discrimination, he had his own law office bomb twice by racists who basically said, You don’t have the right to exist or represent the people you exist, and yet he still moved forward. So I wanna at least give a shout out to him and his family. Again, he’s passed. To put this in context because in the world that he’s in, independent of what I think about charters and reform, this is a continuation of his legacy.
[00:18:50] And just wanted to say those few words. Yeah.
[00:18:53] Cara: Thank you for that, Gerard. Okay. It’s my turn to turn this conversation because we’ve got a guest waiting [00:19:00] for us. Jared, coming up right after this. We are gonna be speaking to a Mark Kumar, the founder and CEO of Kpod Learning, so we’ll be right.[00:20:00]
[00:20:12] Learning Curve listeners, welcome back. We are here with a Amar Kumar, who is the founder and CEO of KaiPod Learning, and has been working to improve education for students around the world for over 15 years. In addition to having been a teacher, a school principal, and a consultant in McKinsey’s education practice, Amar was the chief product officer for Pearson Online in blended learning for seven.
[00:20:34] In that role, Amar designed and built the technology and curriculum that served more than 400,000 students in Connections Academy, schools, and school districts around the country. During the pandemic and through K learning, Ammar transitioned into an education entrepreneur creating a new learning environment to support families that are seeking individualized and flexible learning options through online learning and homeschooling.
[00:20:57] Amar earned a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science from Purdue [00:21:00] University. And an MBA from Harvard Business School. Amar Kumar, welcome to The Learning Curve. Thank you so much for having me. we’re really interested to have you, So as I told you before, we started recording both Gerard and I think a lot about What shall we say? More flexible personalized student centered approaches to education. And so really excited to hear about what you’re doing, but let’s back it up for a minute and talk a little bit about how you got here. So, I’ve read your bio. You’ve had a lot of big and also sort of diverse jobs in the education field.
[00:21:36] Can you talk to us about your own education and , what you were doing prior? To founding Kai Podd that sort of got you to this point.
[00:21:45] Amar: Happy to. You know, I’ve always been interested in education in some capacity. I was born in India and , attended, Indian schools and my family immigrated to the United States when I was 10 years old.
[00:21:58] The number one reason [00:22:00] being education for myself and my sister. And so I think that was a very formative experience for me to feel like I. Lucky enough to leave behind a not so great public school system or a private school system even and go to a country where education was valued and high quality.
[00:22:18] And for some reason that, stuck with me and I wanted to do something to improve education around the world, but specifically where I lived. . And so I did a lot of things in my early career, but eventually I became a teacher and I wanted to have an impact. So I moved back to India to become a school teacher at a very high needs school in rural Bangalore.
[00:22:39] And became a math teacher. Absolutely loved just being in front of the classroom and the energy. And then, , as all teachers sort of realize, it’s, very, very difficult job. Not because of the hours or anything, but because it’s really hard to reach all my students. , I was teaching math for ninth grade students in [00:23:00] India, and I had students who were probably doing math at fourth and fifth grade level in my class.
[00:23:06] And I also had students who were doing math at college level proficiency in my class. So the challenge in front of me was, how do you teach ninth grade content to that wide of a range? And anyone who’s listening to the teacher will absolutely immediately recognize this challenge. And this, I think for me, became a driving force of trying to find a better way to learn.
[00:23:28] There was a lot of soul searching. I did, I became the school principal to try to institute small group learning environments in the school, but just the school building, the schedule, the classrooms, the, bells, nothing supports small group learning in a way that I thought kids needed. Fast forward a couple of years, I found myself at Pearson leading the product team for a division called Connections Education, which runs one of the largest networks of online schools in the world.
[00:23:57] And for me, online learning, I [00:24:00] sought it out because I said, this is gonna solve that problem where, As a teacher, I don’t have to teach to the middle. Like, you know, every student can learn at their own pace. They can master content before they have to move on. And this is truly how every kid, everywhere in the world gets access to really high quality education.
[00:24:20] And that was probably, you know, it felt like it was like the peak of my career. I was truly transforming education for 400,000 kids. know, every new feature we built or every new curriculum we launched was impacting all these kids. And then you can imagine what happened in 2020 where this pandemic occurred and everyone says, Wow, online learning has really held kids back from a social perspective, from an emotional development perspective.
[00:24:46] It’s stressed the parents out. And that’s when I think I started to realize the flaw in my thinking. , I had developed this really, or had helped build this really personalized learning approach that was very flexible and student-centered. But I forgot [00:25:00] about the other jobs of a school, which are custodial care.
[00:25:04] You know, it is social and emotional learning and development. we weren’t doing those jobs at connections, and so that’s where I had the idea and then the passion to build iPod. Is, can you supplement these beautiful online learning environments with beautiful in person and supportive learning spaces so that every child can academically move at their own pace?
[00:25:28] But they’re physically surrounded by kids their age, who they can engage in activities with, and they’re supported by a learning coach who, isn’t a burned out teacher. That learning coach is a really inspired educator who’s there to build relationships.
[00:25:43] Cara: So, yeah, let’s, take that for a second.
[00:25:46] So certainly the pandemic for many of us, I mean, some of us were talking about these things called micro schools before the pandemic, right? And certainly there were homeschoolers before the pandemic. I don’t know if POD [00:26:00] was part of the popular nomenclature, but, pandemic schooling, as you said, it wasn’t just parents saying, Oh my gosh my internet’s not working or I don’t have internet in too many cases.
[00:26:11] It was, Oh my goodness. All of these things, as you said, that my kids aren’t getting from being in school. And many of us are seeing the implications of that on our children today. So take me to that moment when maybe it’s your own experience with the pandemic or that moment when you say, Well, okay, here’s what’s missing, and then tell us what exactly, and, just a sentence or two.
[00:26:33] What exactly is Kapo? If I am a. What do I need to understand if this is the experience for me?
[00:26:39] Amar: so let’s take that question. If you’re a parent and you are looking at your child and saying, This beautiful kid in front of me does really well when they control the pace of what they’re learning, this kid in front of me does really well when they’re in a supportive social environment without, all those negative pressures of bullying and harassment.[00:27:00]
[00:27:00] I wish I could create a learning environment for this child that was academically supportive of his or her needs. and socially help them develop the skills that I want them to have. Well, a lot of parents come to the conclusion that their local school, public or private isn’t gonna be that environment.
[00:27:18] And so then they end up with like, Oh my gosh, I think I need to homeschool my child. And that can be a very stressful realization because to homeschool your child, it’s, you can imagine it’s a lot of work. Some parents have the capacity and the capabilities to do so, but I believe that most parents don’t have both capacity and capability.
[00:27:39] So now imagine I say to you, you can still quote homeschool your child, but just in a new way. There is now a Carpod Learning Center in your community where your child can be, let’s say five days a week. There is. Mostly online or fully online curriculum, which allows your child to learn at their own pace.
[00:27:58] And that learning [00:28:00] center that’s in your community has a learning coach there who’s been a teacher before. They kind of know what they’re doing. And so now your child can move at their own pace. They’re in a supportive social environment, and you as a parent get a lot of voice and choice and say in what your child is doing.
[00:28:16] And so you are sort of directing your child’s education, but you just have now have this partner that’s supporting you. You’re not doing it alone. So essentially that’s kpod. And the reason we built this is because we saw a lot of parents to, during the pandemic, I mean I interviewed probably two, 300 parents.
[00:28:34] We said, Hey, believe it or not, don’t tell anyone this, but this was the best year of school my kid had. Because like, yeah, don’t tell anyone cuz everyone hates remote learning or Zoom school. But like my kid thrived because they got to control their pace. They weren’t being bullied, didn’t have to wake up at 6 45 to like get on a school bus.
[00:28:52] And so I like this remote learning thing. I just can’t deal with the social trade off or the academic support that I personally [00:29:00] have to provide. And so we’re trying to build this scaffolding for parents or like a support system for parents who want to choose these alternative learning pathways. And I do believe it is the fastest growing segment in education, right.
[00:29:14] Cara: Yeah, no, I, think that you’re onto something there, so, but now, okay, so here we set both of us in Massachusetts and I look to our north and I see New Hampshire that has an education scholarship account program that is now going strong for two plus years and has just enrollment increasing.
[00:29:34] And this is where parents can take the money that their child would’ve. In the public school system, in the local district, and they can direct those funds. Probably things like Kpod, other educational services, right? They can put together an education. I see ESAs and micro grants exploding in other states around the country.
[00:29:51] And we’ll see what the reform climate is like after the midterm elections. Some say it could be in favor of seeing these programs expand, but here [00:30:00] we sit in Massachusetts . And so my question to you it’s a contradictory place because it, the Commonwealth is known. certainly a lot of great entrepreneurs and, wonderful ideas spring up from here, but the regulatory environment around education, we’ve got arguably some, what some would say are the most rigid homeschool laws in the country.
[00:30:20] And we also make it really hard for parents to access even great public schools, let alone alternatives to public schools. So what’s the regulatory environment like for you as an entrepreneur and also. With regard to Kpod, is it only those with the resources that are able to access it and how are you thinking about
[00:30:40] Amar: that?
[00:30:42] Yeah. Wow. Great question. Lots depth there. I think the first thing I would say is maybe a , double click on what you said around Massachusetts and its legacy and history of education, excellence and innovation. Right. The first charter schools, the first public school, there’s a lot of history in [00:31:00] Massachusetts for innovation in this.
[00:31:01] So it certainly feels like a great place to live and start. And then I think the second point I’d make is, There’s funding, which, yeah, you’re right. Massachusetts is not one of the most progressive states when it comes to funding following students or funding being more flexible for learning pathways.
[00:31:19] it’s very tied into the current system, unlike states like Arizona or New Hampshire. So that’s a bit of a headwind for companies like ours. The third in terms of regulation. You know, it is incredibly hard in Massachusetts to start schools, to start charters or private schools. Thankfully at Kpod we don’t consider ourselves a school, and that will sometimes feel a little odd to people or almost ironic.
[00:31:42] We supplement schools, we supplement this online school you’ve chosen, or the homeschool curriculum you’ve chosen with a learning pod environment, right? You look at it almost as a combination of a tutoring center like kuman plus an enrichment center, like an art studio [00:32:00] plus. a, a play facility, right?
[00:32:01] Like, it’s a combination of those three things that sort of become kpod. And so thankfully it’s not a school, it’s something beyond that. And so that makes it a little bit easier to operate, especially in states like Massachusetts. And then I think the final thing I’d say is sometimes we can use regulation as a like not possible to innovate because regulation doesn’t make it.
[00:32:24] But I think there’s also a something to be said as in Massachusetts that the default for a lot of parents, the default for a lot of families is, Well, I’ve got my local neighborhood school, but that’s the status quo. And it’s interesting in other parts of the country where we operate, it’s not the case where parents don’t always look to their local school of the default.
[00:32:43] They actually have started to exercise choice in education. I would just love to see that happen in states like Massachusetts, where people really proactively choose their options. Even if that’s your local public school, I want you to proactively choose it, [00:33:00] not just sort of stumble into it.
[00:33:01] GR: Recently I had an opportunity to visit a school where Ed Hirsch’s curriculum. Part of the overall learning platform. And he and others have been critical over the years of progressive education’s, hold on. K12 schooling and pedagogy, which often emphasizes child-centered learning. But we’ve seen decade after decade and largely given what we’ve seen with Nate basically.
[00:33:26] Lack of proficiency in both weeding and math. Would you talk about how pods and hybrid learning might hold promise in ensuring that students acquire the academic background knowledge and grounding and curricular fundamentals that some of our traditional schools have struggled with
[00:33:43] Amar: for decades?
[00:33:45] Yeah, great question. we spend a lot of time thinking about our pedagogical principles, or why we think our approach is far more likely to be effective. And we usually talk about it in three pillars. The first is the concept of zone of [00:34:00] proximal development, or some people call it the learning frontier, which is, always spending time learning on the next hardest.
[00:34:08] You as a child. So like a good analogy to this is when you are exercising, right? Like if, if you’re new to exercise, you’re not gonna go pick up those 50 pound dumbbells. You’re gonna start with five or 10 pound dumbbells. And as you build your muscles, you go to the 15th and the 20. That’s how you build muscle.
[00:34:25] Same with learning. You know, if you’re at a fourth grade math level, you should not be entering a ninth grade classroom. You should be catching up by doing just the right next content. So online learning as we support it in Kpod makes that possible and we believe makes the whole learning process far more efficient for kids.
[00:34:44] The second thing we think about is mastery based learning, which is you don’t move on to your fifth grade content until you’ve truly mastered your fourth grade content. And one of the most outspoken people on this is Sal Khan from Khan Academy, where he uses the metaphor of architects or [00:35:00] construction equipment building a house.
[00:35:02] You don’t move on from the foundation to the ground floor until you are done with the foundation. You don’t move on to the second floor until you’re done with the ground floor. We don’t treat education that way, we just move on because it’s now June, so now you gotta go to the next grade. And so in online class, mastery based learning, students are really encouraged to focus on mastery and get it right before they move on.
[00:35:28] And we do believe that. And there’s data that shows that is far more effective than, you have nine months to learn this and if you don’t learn it, you’re moving on anyway. And then the final thing we talk about is the third pillar is this hybrid team of educators who are there to support you.
[00:35:43] You know, if you’re in an online school plus kpod, you have these certified online teachers who are there to deliver the content, assign homework, grade it, assign exams, and grade them and provide you feedback. These are people who are super passionate about the. , [00:36:00] and then in person you have this educator or this team of learning coaches who are really passionate about you as an individual and really supporting you to master that content, to build in person relationships, et cetera.
[00:36:14] So you got this team of people supporting you rather than. One educator or one teacher that’s gotta do it all. So when you bring all three of these together, we do believe that this will actually show you incredible gains in reading and writing and social outcomes, , and actually could be an incredible solution towards the challenge of learning loss as a result of the pandemic.
[00:36:35] GR: One thing the pandemic did, even for someone like me who’s been a proponent of parental options for over 30 years, the number of parents who didn’t support charters ESAs, or any form of choice, who called me asking for advice regarding how to get their children into a choice. This program and what was I think shocking for many, not so much to me, cuz I have several friends who are homeschoolers the rise in the [00:37:00] number of parents of color, particularly African Americans who decided to become homeschoolers.
[00:37:04] But they were really interested in the whole idea of a broader choice of options. And, , pods were a part of it was you talk about how Kpod works to develop and support not only those communi. But maybe just families in general who haven’t, who’ve been on the, I would say the periphery of the reform movement, but now wanna become part of the center stage conversation.
[00:37:25] Amar: this is when one of the, the best silver linings coming out of this terrible pandemic that we’re in is parents standing up and saying, Okay, I, saw, I got visibility into what my child was learning, how they were learning, whether they were learning, and I don’t like what I saw. I want to have greater voice in this.
[00:37:46] And I think when they started to say, Okay, can I exercise my voice and make a different choice? They saw maybe two, maybe three really terrible options. And that’s not a choice. The choice doesn’t mean you [00:38:00] pick the least bad of the options presented to you. Choice should mean you have a variety, a spectrum of options, right?
[00:38:07] Personalized, less personalized, big environment, small environment, project based Montessori, you know, choice should mean this diversity of options that parents can look into. And so parents are looking for that and when they don’t find it, They look around and they say, You know what? No one cares for my child the way I care for my child.
[00:38:29] I need to take some matters into my own hands. that realization that . Insight is what is driving that growth in homeschooling, especially in communities where parents of color who are saying, you know, there’s just not, the lack of options means I’ve gotta take control. And so that’s the group that we really wanna support to say, you don’t
[00:38:49] GR: have to do it alone.
[00:38:50] I want to ask you one final question, and it’s really driven by what you were sharing with Cara regarding regulation. So we recently had gubernatorial [00:39:00] elections in 36 states and three territories 31. Incumbent governors were eligible to run for reelection in eight. We’re not eligible or didn’t seek reelection.
[00:39:08] We’ll wait for the final tally to come in, but. Have governors possibly new governors and, and sitting governors walking into a state of the Union address in January, and she or he will have to address not only education, which we know in at least 30 states as the number one line item for a governor, but they’re gonna talk about innovation.
[00:39:28] If you were providing advice to an incoming governor based upon your work at your company and work you’ve seen, what are two things you’d say to him or her?
[00:39:38] Amar: I would say that first, I think you should be recognizing that school choices become a real priority for parents across the aisle, and that is not the kind of thing that goes away by itself.
[00:39:51] You know, parents don’t just forget the years of loss that their kids faced. Number two, if you’re gonna invest in innovation, [00:40:00] it needs to be truly game changing and disruptive innovation, not just incremental. So absolutely, we should have more charters and more flexible learning models, but you also have to try to find a way to serve these.
[00:40:15] Millions of families who have disappeared, right? Imagine, you know, like Boston has fallen below 50,000 kids in the school district for the first time in decades. Why is that? Where did those kids go? , parents don’t just choose not to send their kids to school. They do it because it just for no reason.
[00:40:32] They do it because there is a really important reason that school was not serving their kids. So innovation should be focused on new ways to serve families, new ways that the public system can meet the needs of those families. And that’s exactly what we are trying to build, which is why we feel so strongly about it.
[00:40:50] But if the innovation agenda for governors when it comes to education is just a little bit of more of the same, I don’t think they’re gonna be in that position much.
[00:40:58] Cara: Wow. [00:41:00] Well, Ammar Kumar, founder of Kpod Learning. This has been enlightening. Really excited for your work. Excited to learn more and I know our listeners are too, so we’ll be watching and let’s keep in touch.
[00:41:13] Thank you so much for your time today. Thank you so much for having me. Fantastic. We.[00:42:00]
[00:42:24] GR: And my tweet of the week is from Michael Horn. He says, Many states have stepped forward with a range of education, savings accounts and microgram programs to enable families to afford different choices. Microgram programs, partly in. Of Covid 19. It is the future of local education. More to come. Love
[00:42:45] Cara: it.
[00:42:45] Very relevant. Okay, Gerard. Next week I’m excited for this one. This is a friend of the learning curve and we are gonna have lot to discuss because we are gonna be speaking with Alicia Thomas Cersi, the Democratic nominee for Georgia [00:43:00] State School Superintendent. Gerard until then, you take care.
[00:43:06] GR: You take care. Watch those leaves.
[00:43:08] Amar: Yeah, you too.[00:44:00]