The Questionable Necessity of Snow Day Make Ups

Vol. 13 No. 5

divhead eletter Vol14 No5 snowshoveling copy

After Winter Storm Jonas paralyzed much of the East Coast on January 23, school cancellations for slippery roads, power loss, and facilities damage were rampant. Remembering the storm-tossed winter of 2013-2014, during which the United States saw a “polar vortex” causing double-digits of school days missed, the question of snow days arises once again—and whether they need to be “made up” at all.

According to School’s In: The History of Summer Education in American Public Schools author Kenneth Gold, the standard 180-day attendance of students was a compromise between agrarian communities, who could only attend school during the slower times of the farming year like summer and winter, and urban communities like New York City. The 180-day compromise was an average between two extremes, then, and not necessarily based on any sort of “best practices” research.

As Gold puts it, the United States’s current “standard” number of school days was “not established with learning goals in mind.”

On the other hand, a growing percentage of research seems to indicate that additional instructional hours and days results in quantitatively improved test scores. In one research survey, 10 additional instructional days had more of an (estimated) impact on student test scores in math than lower class sizes, veteran teachers, or grade retention for low-achieving students.

When you’re determining whether your students need to attend school on previously scheduled days off to “make up” for the impromptu snow holiday, consider the following.

  • While looking at your fellow schools’ snow-day policies—public and private—can be helpful in establishing a neighborhood baseline for your school’s protocols, consider whether there’s a purposeful reason for the policies, aside from “this is how we’ve/everyone else has always done it.”
  • If your school is accredited by an external board, look for rules on whether your school needs to be in session for a certain number of days to maintain its accreditation.
  • Talk to your teachers and ask them how badly their schedules have been affected by the snow-day departures. Have they had to skip sections or otherwise cram the curriculum into insufficient class time? If so, making up school days missed due to snow might be in your students’ best interest.
  • Calculate how much extra money it will cost to have the school running—facilities cost, faculty salaries/overtime, transportation expenses, etc.—and whether your budget can handle the additional “make up” class time.

In the end, you know your school better than anyone. So, if you decide to “make up” the class time lost to Winter Storm Jonas or whichever blizzard blows up next, make sure you do it for specific, strategic reasons—and not just because your competition has decided to extend their year.

Additional ISM resources:
The Source for Business Managers Vol. 8 No. 5 Snow Days on Campus
The Source for School Heads Vol. 13 No. 5 When and How to Call a Snow Day
The Source for Business Managers Vol. 12 No. 6 Snow Days Are Ancient History

Additional ISM resources for Gold Consortium members:
I&P Vol. 30 No. 12 Lessons From Katrina: Disaster Planning at Private-Independent Schools

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