Parents, teachers and school administrators worried about how the unprecedented number of January cancellation days will shape student learning can chill out. They may be heartened by a new study conducted by the Harvard Kennedy School that finds no academic harm in the closures.
The Harvard Gazette reports the research, conducted by Assistant Professor Joshua Goodman, shows that snow days do not impact student learning. Instead, he finds that keeping schools open can be more detrimental to learning than closing them. The full study, available here, is titled "Flaking Out: Snowfall, Disruptions of Instructional Time, and Student Achievement."
The lesson for administrators might be counterintuitive.
“They need to consider the downside when deciding not to declare a snow day during a storm — the fact that many kids will miss school regardless, either because of transportation issues or parental discretion," Goodman said. "And because those absences typically aren’t made up in the school calendar, those kids can fall behind.”
The study finds keeping schools open in bad weather typically leads to more absences for low-income students, who often can least afford the loss of instruction time. A reporter for the Christian Science Monitor concludes school closures mean "a level playing field for all students with no instruction time missed, since snow days are often made up at the end of the school year."
BBC News picked up the story, noting that students who savor authorized days off will approve of the summary from Goodman: "Closures have no impact. Absences do."
Here in Minnesota, the debate over closing schools continues.
The Star Tribune Opinion page carried a commentary from a school nurse in the Minneapolis district who supports the decision to keep schools shuttered in the bitter weather. Janelle Holmvig writes that the subzero temperatures are dangerous to children who lack adequate outerwear.
"Minneapolis public school social workers are wizards at collecting winter clothing and distributing it to children who need it. But what if a coat is forgotten on the bus, or a mitten is lost, or — more common than is fair — a child wets his or her clothing and no one has had the money or time to get to the laundromat? Hauling laundry on public transportation is a yeoman’s job, and most of our parents don’t send their shirts out to be laundered," she writes. "The fact is, our students don’t always dress for the weather. Their life circumstances and socioeconomic status dictate this."