Why Closing Schools During Snow Can Be Good for Kids

Moneybox
A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 21 2014 10:15 AM

Why Closing Schools During Snow Can Be Good for Kids

462630903-visitors-congregate-on-snow-under-the-main-gondola
These kids would learn more in school.

Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Public schools in the District of Columbia and surrounding suburbs are closed today, which is annoying many of my Slate colleagues. It also made me wonder about the impact of these closures on the students. We know that summer vacation drives a fair share of educational inequality, since poor parents are unable to provide the kind of enriching nonschool environment that higher-income parents give their kids over the summertime. Is a winter storm similar?

The available evidence says no. Snow days are fine for kids. In fact, it's hesitating to pull the trigger on canceling school that may be bad for poor kids.

The news comes to us from Joshua Goodman of Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Massachusetts is an unusually well-governed state as well as a rather cold one, so its school officials actually wanted to see a rigorous assessment of their practices. What Goodman found (PDF) was that closures due to snow are unrelated to school performance, most likely because when schools cancel a day they replace it with a "makeup" day at the end of the year. By contrast, student absences from school are very detrimental to learning. The difference, Goodman speculates, is that schools can easily coordinate around schoolwide lost days, while individual student absences disrupt the whole lesson plan. The kicker is that when you look at moderate levels of snowfall—the kind of snow that causes some Massachusetts schools to close but not others—it turns out that snowfall leads to a surge in absences.

Advertisement

So basically a school faced with a gray area level of snow has two choices. One is that it can cancel school for everyone, then stage a makeup day for everyone, and then everyone will be fine. The other is that it can keep school open, knowing that a certain number of kids won't show up and that those absences will be quite bad for their learning. Under the circumstances, closing the school can make sense.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The End of Pregnancy

And the inevitable rise of the artificial womb.

Doctor Tests Positive for Ebola in New York City

How a Company You’ve Never Heard of Took Control of the Entire Porn Industry

The Hot New Strategy for Desperate Democrats

Blame China for everything.

The Questions That Michael Brown’s Autopsies Can’t Answer

Foreigners

Kiev Used to Be an Easygoing Place

Now it’s descending into madness.

Technology

Don’t Just Sit There

How to be more productive during your commute.

There Has Never Been a Comic Book Character Like John Constantine

Which Came First, the Word Chicken or the Word Egg?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 23 2014 1:51 PM Is This the ISIS Backlash We've Been Waiting For?
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 23 2014 5:53 PM Amazon Investors Suddenly Bearish on Losing Money
  Life
Outward
Oct. 23 2014 5:08 PM Why Is an Obscure 1968 Documentary in the Opening Credits of Transparent?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 11:33 AM Watch Little Princesses Curse for the Feminist Cause
  Slate Plus
Working
Oct. 23 2014 11:28 AM Slate’s Working Podcast: Episode 2 Transcript Read what David Plotz asked Dr. Meri Kolbrener about her workday.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 6:55 PM A Goodfellas Actor Sued The Simpsons for Stealing His Likeness. Does He Have a Case?
  Technology
Technology
Oct. 23 2014 11:45 AM The United States of Reddit  How social media is redrawing our borders. 
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 23 2014 5:42 PM Seriously, Evolution: WTF? Why I love the most awkward, absurd, hacked-together species.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.