Teachers and parents up and down the East Coast got a reminder this week that snow days are a pain. Sure, kids love them, but extended school closings make it hard on students, teachers, and especially working parents. Nor is keeping schools open during storms a good solution. Indeed a new study suggests that this is an even worse option for students than declaring a snow day and making it up later.Some schools are experimenting with a third solution to the snow day dilemma: telecommuting. When northern New Jersey schools closed due to Hurricane Sandy two years ago, one superintendent proposed dealing with closures by replacing in-class teaching with virtual lessons. The NYT reports:
He notified teachers. He petitioned the state’s Education Department to have it treat the day as a traditional school day. That is critical, because the district had already used its three allotted snow days this winter, meaning it would have to convert a future vacation day to a school day to avoid dropping below New Jersey’s 180-day minimum for the academic year.
State officials said they would take a look, gathering evidence that the experiment worked and involved student-teacher engagement throughout the day, and that it was not just a glorified homework assignment.
“This is an idea that we’d be interested in exploring in the future,” said Michael Yaple, a spokesman for the Education Department.
The state still hasn’t approved the superintendent’s experiment for use throughout the state, but many teachers surveyed believe the format gives their students opportunities they wouldn’t have had in the classroom.Naturally, there are some issues that need to be addressed. New York, for example, has already made it clear that virtual classes cannot count toward normal school days because many students don’t have internet access at home. This is obviously a big problem, as the state’s poorest households are least likely to have internet access. And it will also take teachers time to adjust to a radically different teaching style.But this is a good example of how new information technologies are providing novel solutions to old problems. It’s also another reminder of why our political class should make it a priority to build up “infostructure,” including improved broadband speeds and access.