Study: Why school snow days are good for students

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – With cities and towns across Southern New England preparing for a blizzard over the next several days, they might want consider giving students an extra day off from school.

That’s because a 2012 study released by Harvard Kennedy School of Government found that weather-related school closures do not have a negative impact on student learning, in part because the days are often made up at the end of the year.

The study, prepared by assistant professor Joshua Goodman, also found that a district’s decision to keep school open during inclement weather can actually be detrimental for students because “many kids will miss school regardless either because of transportation issues or parental discretion.”

“With slack time in the schedule, the time lost to closure can be regained,” Goodman wrote. “Student absences, however, force teachers to expend time getting students on the same page as their classmates.”

Goodman, a former Massachusetts public school teacher who now teaches empirical methods and the economics of education, analyzed Massachusetts student attendance data in grades 3 through 10 over the course of eight years for the study. Like Rhode Island, the Massachusetts school year lasts 180 days.

The study found that student achievement is strongly correlated with days missed – when school is open, but students are absent – but that student performance does not decrease when an entire school is closed. Put simply, closing school altogether tends to even the playing field while keeping school open could force some students to fall behind if they are unable to attend.

Gov. Gina Raimondo said she will sign an executive order declaring a state of emergency for this “extreme and severe weather event.” She urged all drivers to be off the roads by 8 p.m. Monday, and said a travel ban has been issued starting at midnight.

Christina O’Reilly, a spokeswoman with the Providence Public School District, told WPRI.com the city always errs on the side of getting children home safely when it comes to making a decision about inclement weather.

“Before these decisions are made, we consult with PEMA, the National Weather Service, and local meteorologists; we look at graphs and charts of likely probabilities of snow in the key commute times, and discuss with the city their ability to get the roads cleared should accumulation start,” O’Reilly said.

There is one downside to school closures that isn’t mentioned in the Harvard study, according to Providence School Board Vice President Nicholas Hemond.

“We have many students in our district who, when school is closed, do not get to eat breakfast or lunch,” Hemond told WPRI.com. “They eat at school.”

Hemond said Providence has become more “trigger happy” when it comes to closing school since a Dec. 2007 storm that forced students across the city to remain on school busses for several hours. Still, he said he supports the city taking a cautious approach.

“If we can’t get students to school safely and timely, then we should cancel,” Hemond said.

Dan McGowan ( dmcgowan@wpri.com ) covers politics, education and the city of Providence for WPRI.com. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter: @danmcgowan

 

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