January was pretty much a waste of time for schools around here. There were so many snow days and two-hour delays and various other problems that it seemed school was out of session as much as it was in session.
All this sitting around gives me time to think, which always is a dangerous thing. Before I tell you what I am thinking, I want you to know I’m not the kind of guy who says my generation was much tougher when we were kids or that we walked 10 miles uphill both ways barefoot through blizzards to get to school. I always remember having shoes on.
But I think snow days should be abolished.
I’m not saying we should make third graders walk to school in sub-zero weather or bus drivers try to navigate roads covered in ice and snow that haven’t been plowed since December. Safety should come first, and if it looks bad school officials should call off school.
What I am saying is that we should make up every day that gets called off. Right now, schools get five days a year they can call school off and I guess any number of two-hour delays. Generally, when schools take more than five days the state legislature passes some kind of bill and they get the extra days, too. By the time you add up all the off days and late starts, you end up with a significant number of school days missed.
We always are reading about how American education continues to fall behind other countries. I’m not sure how true that is, but let’s say there is some validity in those claims. There are a lot of reasons this could be true, including the fact that in some other countries children simply spend more days in school. Japanese students spend 243 days in school each year. In Israel, the total is 216. England and Hungary weigh in at 192. We schedule our kids for 180 days a year, then in places like Ohio we subtract from that total when it snows.
Our kids are sitting around watching TV or playing video games all January while those Japanese kids are doing calculus. They’re even getting ahead of us in the southern U.S., where there seldom is any snow. They’re down there working on football plays while Ohio students are out of school!
So here’s my thought: If we say we want a 180-day school year, then the students go to school 180 days. If it snows, we make up the days later in the year or on Saturdays. I would plan for a 185- or 190-day school year, and then once we hit 180, school’s out for summer! If you don’t have a lot of snow days, you get a bonus at the end of the year. If you do, you know going in you’ll have to make up those days.
I know, you’re going to say you’ll never get students and parents (and maybe teachers) to agree to extend the school year or to make up missed days on Saturdays. Yes, there would be problems for the first year or two, but it’s all about changing the culture. Once you make it part of the program, people will have to get on board eventually. I am personally acquainted with a young man who went to school on a lot of Saturdays, not because of missed days but because of various other scholarly infractions. It was either go on Saturday or not graduate. He went. I’m not trying to be a Scrooge here, but let’s face it, if teachers can tread water through months like the one we just went through, they’re doing pretty well. All those days and extra hours out of class aren’t going to help when the students sit down to take those arbitrary tests at the end of the year.
If I were back in high school, I’m sure I would think this plan is part of a conspiracy to make life hard for all young people. If I were a teacher and I suggested this idea, I might not ever talk to myself again, which would be awkward. I suspect some of my teacher friends might even give me the cold shoulder for a while, but it’s already been a cold winter so I guess I can stand it. But, really, if we think 180 is the right number of days for school, then we need the 180 days to have any chance to cover all the material that should be covered. It’s not like we’re talking a prison sentence here, we’re talking providing young people with a competitive education. All those extra days off only make it harder for them.