I work in a school district that justifiably prides itself on its technological prowess. Much time, effort, and money has been invested in software, hardware, and training of staff and students. The district even devotes an entire professional day to technology each year.
That said, in one way we—along with all the other school districts in the state—are hopelessly antiquated. I’m talking horse-and-buggy antiquated. Yes, it’s the venerable snow day.
Monday the 8th of February was cancelled due to an impending storm. This further extended an already long weekend because Friday the 5th was sacrificed to Old Man Winter as well.
Meanwhile, in my district, the school calendar flagged Friday the 12th as a professional day for teachers. Not only would students miss class again, they would not be in session for the entire following week due to February vacation.
If I may dip into my bag of clichés, this sequence of events amounts to a perfect (snow) storm, one where a cold front of illogical scheduling meets a low pressure system of antiquated bureaucratic practice.
And sadly enough, the practice just won’t change.
Solutions? I have a few. Some savvy districts in the country have made more than talk of their technology by proactively setting up computer-based learning should the weather go north. Much like online coursework for college students, these lessons are prepared in advance by teachers and available online. Instead of a full day of snowmen, television, and video games, homebound students devote a few hours to their educations via the Internet.
If students have no access to technology, they take home “snow work”—sometimes called “blizzard bags”—in the fall. For these, each course’s instructor prescribes work that will move the students’ skill sets along so their learning remains fresh.
Another remedy is greater flexibility in scheduling. In this scenario, parents are notified up front that professional and vacation days are tentative, not cast in concrete. In my district’s case, by decree of the superintendent, the professional day on the 12th could become a make-up day for the 5th, and next Monday, the first day of “winter vacation” (as if we haven’t had enough of that already) would be tabbed as a makeup for Monday the 8th.
A third fix? The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education could amend their regulations regarding the 180-day attendance requirement by simply waiving days lost to inclement weather.
Radical? Maybe. But it’s better than the present practice of tacking days on to the end of the June. It also acknowledges a simple reality and poorly-kept secret: student learning, the ultimate goal of everyone in the education business, is sacrificed each time a winter snow day is declared and an end-of-year makeup day is used to make amends.
By then, heat and humidity rule the day. Some students have already left for summer camps and, even if they are physically present, most have checked out mentally. January and February school days in exchange for late June school days is not a fair trade. Not even close.
Of course, for administrators in air-conditioned offices, resistance to change and adherence to numbers is easy. But for students and teachers melting like Dali clocks on the desks and chairs of late-June heat, the system cries out for another look, one better in keeping with our technological times.
Simply put, snow days and the way we make them up have become the 8-track cassettes of education. It’s time to download a better way.