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Growing up in temperate Seattle, known best for its rainy, grey weather, we did not get many snow days. I remember those wonderful days when the schools would close due to dangerous conditions, and we could stay at home and go sledding with our friends on the impassable streets in our neighborhood. As kids, though, we lived in hope for the elusive snow day. Whenever the conditions began to change, and the temperature began to drop from the usual forty degrees with rain down closer to freezing, we would constantly check the thermometer and look carefully at the halo of light around the streetlamp looking for the transition from a rainy, misty halo to the distinctive swirl of snowflakes. Now living in the New England, snow regularly comes during the winter, and kids get quite a few snow days, enough for schools to have to make those days up at the end of the school year when the weather gets hot and everyone wants summer vacation to start. Education departments, school committees, and concerned parents debate every year possible solutions to have school finish on the expected date. Suggestions range from having classes on Saturdays to cancelling Spring Break to offset the snow days accrued during the year.
Recently, the Anderson County School District in South Carolina decided to pilot a program to eliminate snow days with technology. In a Washington Post article written by Lindsey Beaver titled, “A South Carolina school district just abolished snow days — and will make students learn online,” the author describes a decision that will require students on snow days to do their schoolwork online from home using their school supplied Chromebooks. According to the article, in the face of inclement weather, students third through twelfth grade would bring their Chromebooks home, and the teachers would electronically issue the lessons. The students would be expected to treat the day as a regular day at school except they would be working from home. Students without regular internet access at home would be required to download the assignments at school before the possible snow day.
The policy choice to eliminate snow days in South Carolina using technology begs the question of how having a Chromebook loaded with an assignment would be appreciably different from a teacher giving kids handouts or reading assignments the day before a possible snow storm. The real transformation involves telling kids to treat the snow day like any other school day except that they will be working from home. The technology in most cases simplifies the transfer of the assignments from the teacher to the students, but the expectation seems very high that the students will take responsibility for learning away from the structure of school, the watchful eye of the teacher, and among the distractions of home. Stepping away from the physical school for only a few days in the case of Anderson County, SC hardly changes the educational landscape, but it does open the question of whether kids could effectively learn from home.
As a young student, I looked forward to the possibility of the elusive snow day. Part of the fun included playing in the snow with my friends and getting a break from the usual pattern of life getting up and going to school. The solution in Anderson County South Carolina to use technology including school provided Chromebooks and the internet to eliminate snow days changes the expectation of students and their relation to school. Setting the expectation that students should manage their schooling from home with all the attendant distractions constitutes a significant change in expectation and may pave the way for fewer schools and more online education. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 56% of students that enroll in college graduate with a bachelor’s degree while only 20% of students enrolled in the top 10 online colleges complete their degree (top10onlinecolleges.com). Given the difference in graduation rates between physical and online college for students that are much more mature than the K-12 students, schools should very carefully consider the impact on education of moving more online even if beginning with a few snow days.
Dr. Smith’s career in scientific and information research spans the areas of bioinformatics, artificial intelligence, toxicology, and chemistry. He has published a number of peer-reviewed scientific papers. He has worked over the past seventeen years developing advanced analytics, machine learning, and knowledge management tools to enable research and support high level decision making. Tim completed his Ph.D. in Toxicology at Cornell University and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Washington.
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