Snow days do not damage children’s learning, study finds

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Schools have been criticised in the past for closing when it snows heavily. However, a new Harvard study has found that shutting schools occasionally because of bad weather does not damage learning.

Schools have been criticised in the past for closing when it snows heavily.

However, a new Harvard study has found that shutting schools occasionally because of bad weather does not damage learning.

In fact, the worst disruption is caused when schools try to stay open, but large numbers of staff and pupils don’t manage to get there.

Former school teacher Joshua Goodman, who is now assistant professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, was asked by the Massachusetts Department of Education to find out if snow days have a detrimental impact on student achievement.

But when he and his team analysed seven years worth of data they found that closing schools due to snow did not affect pupils’ results. 

They discovered that schools can easily adapt to short-term closures, reorganising their teaching schedules for the rest of the term.

Prof Goodman’s research report, entitled Flaking Out: Snowfall, Disruptions of Instructional Time and Student Achievement, found that keeping schools open in bad weather is more detrimental to learning than closing them.

He said that schools “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. 

Because those absences typically aren’t made up in the school calendar, those kids can fall behind”.

He continued: “Closures have no impact. Absences do. With slack time in the schedule, the time lost to closure can be regained. Student absences, however, force teachers to expend time getting students on the same page as their classmates.”

In the UK, the Department for Education’s severe weather guidance advises schools to stay open in adverse weather “for as many pupils as possible, whenever it is reasonable to do so”.

In January 2013, thousands of headteachers were criticised for shutting their schools for safety reasons during heavy snowfalls. Companies complained that hundreds of millions of pounds were lost because parents could not go to work and internet discussion forums were full of complaints from parents about the short notice they received about the closure of their children’s schools.

To read Flaking Out: Snowfall, Disruptions of Instructional Time and Student Achievement go to www.hks.harvard.edu/fs/jgoodma1/papers/snowdays.pdf


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