Opinion Blog


Rick Hess Straight Up

Education policy maven Rick Hess of the American Enterprise Institute think tank offers straight talk on matters of policy, politics, research, and reform. Read more from this blog.

School & District Management Opinion

Pump the Brakes on Drive to End Snow Days

By Rick Hess — June 07, 2021 3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Early last month, the New York City Department of Education announced that it plans to do away with snow days next year. The move met with predictable angst from students and a series of practical questions from the United Federation of Teachers, but education cognoscenti seem fairly enthusiastic. Indeed, this past year, when most public schools were either remote or hybrid, 39 percent of districts did away with snow days. There seem to be plenty of school systems interested in following New York City’s lead next year.

I’m not so sure that’s a good idea. While a “no snow days” policy made sense last winter, when most kids were remote on a regular basis and when lots of learning time was lost already, it’s a different story going forward. Even setting aside (legitimate) questions about hardware, connectivity, and student preferences, the idea deserves careful scrutiny.

For starters, as the pandemic has made painfully clear, the same lessons that may work in a traditional classroom don’t neatly pivot online. Quality virtual learning requires intentionality and coherence. But simply telling a teacher on Wednesday morning, “Oh, today is a snow day, so you’re now teaching online” is antithetical to any of that. It’s a recipe for lousy instruction. It’s also an incentive, in places where teachers may fear that their winter will now be dotted with snow days, to avoid working too hard preparing in-class lessons that will go unused.

There’s also the question of students being prepared for the pivot. Will students be expected to bring home all of their books and materials every day during the winter season, in case of an impending snow day? That can be a lot to ask. Will students be expected to remember their procedures, passwords, and logins for access from home, even if they haven’t used them for a while? As many teachers and parents can attest, there are a lot of potential challenges there. If students lack things they need, will teachers be expected to just work around it—or work just with those students who have what they need? Doing remote learning in an every-so-often, haphazard way would throw off student routines and create headaches—all of which might suggest students would be better served by a couple make-up days.

Then there are the parents. Remote schooling might seem preferable to snow days for parents of older children, but it’s not clear they’re any better for the parents of many elementary students. Since parents are justifiably reticent to leave elementary school students home alone all day, many will still need to stay home from work—as if it were a regular snow day. (Although, unlike a typical snow day, those parents who are able to telecommute will have to also monitor their kids’ schoolwork.) Especially for younger students who haven’t regularly been remote for several months, technical confusion and practical problems seem likely—again, requiring an attendant parent.

The preceding concerns are all made more salient given how all too easy being able to say, “School’s still on” makes it for district leaders to declare a snow day. After all, there’s already a long tradition of risk-averse superintendents canceling school prematurely. And we’ve seen this year just how tempting it can be for district leaders, if given the option, to insist that school is on and going gangbusters, even if the building’s empty. The possibility of “school is on” snow days being called far more often serves to supersize all of the other concerns.

Ultimately, given the problems with haphazard, stop-and-start remote learning and the temptation that the “no snow day” option offers to district leaders who have a long history of making decisions based on operational convenience, this is a notion that deserves a lot more contemplation than it’s received.

The opinions expressed in Rick Hess Straight Up are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Events

English-Language Learners Webinar Helping English-Learners Through Improved Parent Outreach: Strategies That Work
Communicating with families is key to helping students thrive – and that’s become even more apparent during a pandemic that’s upended student well-being and forced constant logistical changes in schools. Educators should pay particular attention
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Mathematics Webinar
Addressing Unfinished Learning in Math: Providing Tutoring at Scale
Most states as well as the federal government have landed on tutoring as a key strategy to address unfinished learning from the pandemic. Take math, for example. Studies have found that students lost more ground
Content provided by Yup Math Tutoring
Classroom Technology Webinar Building Better Blended Learning in K-12 Schools
The pandemic and the increasing use of technology in K-12 education it prompted has added renewed energy to the blended learning movement as most students are now learning in school buildings (and will likely continue

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management Opinion ‘This Is Not What We Signed Up For’: A Principal’s Plea for More Support
School leaders are playing the role of health-care experts, social workers, mask enforcers, and more. It’s taking a serious toll.
Kristen St. Germain
3 min read
Illustration of a professional woman walking a tightrope.
Laura Baker/Education Week and uzenzen/iStock/Getty
School & District Management Letter to the Editor Educators Must Look to History When They Advocate for Changes
Educators and policymakers must be aware of the history of ideas when making changes in education, says this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Letter to the Editor Reconsidering Causes of Principal Burnout
The state and federal governments are asking us to implement policies that often go against our beliefs, says this letter to the editor.
1 min read
Illustration of an open laptop receiving an email.
iStock/Getty
School & District Management Teachers Want Their Administrators to Teach. Here's Why
Principals and other education administrators should even be required to spend time teaching in the classroom, according to teachers responding to an EdWeek query.
Hayley Hardison
4 min read
Teacher Principal 11122021 1310106400
E+/Getty