“Because we can” isn’t necessarily the best reason for doing something.
So it is our hope that before local school districts avail themselves of their recently granted ability to count snow days as school days by creating a portal through which students can access lessons and assignments at home, they would take time to consider all aspects of such a plan.
Obviously, one of the first would be deciding how to accommodate students who don’t have a computer or internet access at home. Moreover, amounts of snow that generate snow days often come with winds and ice that can knock out electric and internet services.
And since the goal is to count each “flex day” as one of the 180 school days mandated by state law, the work done each day would have to approximate the lessons that would have been learned had the student actually been in class. But snow days have a tendency to happen without much warning, so we wonder how well a lesson plan devised and altered on the spur of the moment for home consumption would stand up against what that student would have experienced in the classroom.
True, lesson plans could be created well in advance, but again, if this wasn’t the information the child would have studied in school that day, is it really the same as having been there?
Gov. Tom Wolf signed the bill creating these days into law last week, and his action comes on the heels of a three-year pilot program during which we have to assume that issues such as these were experienced and addressed. Moreover, other states have been doing this for some time. So we have to think the answers are out there.
And we certainly aren’t against using technology to enhance the quality of education. Indeed, some county school districts have provided, or are in the process of providing, Chromebooks to their students and embracing the Google Classroom. Students are indeed fortunate to have access to such technology, and flex days certainly would help them make the most of it.
But are they absolutely necessary?
A 2014 Harvard University study found that while individual absences by students hurt academic performance, snow days really had no impact on
children’s math and reading test scores.
Since flex days would be introduced to assure 180 official school days, they are not going to shorten the school year. Students and teachers still put in 180 days, no matter what.
Additionally, some parents must go to work regardless of the weather. Younger students who might need adult help with their flex day work may not get it. Even if their parents also can work from home, mom or dad might not be able to take time away from their own assignments to help their child with theirs.
Finally, and most intangibly, there is the loss of one of the simplest childhood joys — waking up on a wintry morning to find your yard covered in snow and your school closed for the day. It’s a consideration that should not be summarily discounted.
Many adults already know that there is seldom any such thing as a true day off or vacation day. They spend such days checking and responding to emails and voice mails throughout the day. “Out of the office” is a concept rapidly going the way of way of “if you need me, call my pager.”
Is the perception of productivity something we’re willing to embrace at the cost of free time that can be key to kids’ creativity as well as to their mental and emotional well-being?
Now, school districts would be limited to just five flex days a year, and there’s no guarantee that kids given a responsibility-free day off from school would spend that time disconnecting from their screens and mobile devices anyway. So perhaps such worries are unfounded.
Still, educators and parents should at least have serious discuss about them, as well as the processes and responsibilities of flex days, before plowing snow days to the side of the road.