Why Closing Schools During Snow Can Be Good for Kids

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

Politics

Blacks Don’t Have a Corporal Punishment Problem

Americans do. But when blacks exhibit the same behaviors as others, it becomes part of a greater black pathology. 

I Bought the Huge iPhone. I’m Already Thinking of Returning It.

Scotland Is Just the Beginning. Expect More Political Earthquakes in Europe.

Lifetime Didn’t Think the Steubenville Rape Case Was Dramatic Enough

So they added a little self-immolation.

Two Damn Good, Very Different Movies About Soldiers Returning From War

Medical Examiner

The Most Terrifying Thing About Ebola 

The disease threatens humanity by preying on humanity.

Students Aren’t Going to College Football Games as Much Anymore, and Schools Are Getting Worried

The Good Wife Is Cynical, Thrilling, and Grown-Up. It’s Also TV’s Best Drama.

  News & Politics
Weigel
Sept. 19 2014 9:15 PM Chris Christie, Better Than Ever
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 19 2014 6:35 PM Pabst Blue Ribbon is Being Sold to the Russians, Was So Over Anyway
  Life
Inside Higher Ed
Sept. 19 2014 1:34 PM Empty Seats, Fewer Donors? College football isn’t attracting the audience it used to.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 19 2014 4:58 PM Steubenville Gets the Lifetime Treatment (And a Cheerleader Erupts Into Flames)
  Slate Plus
Slate Picks
Sept. 19 2014 12:00 PM What Happened at Slate This Week? The Slatest editor tells us to read well-informed skepticism, media criticism, and more.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 19 2014 4:48 PM You Should Be Listening to Sbtrkt
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 19 2014 6:31 PM The One Big Problem With the Enormous New iPhone
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 19 2014 5:09 PM Did America Get Fat by Drinking Diet Soda?   A high-profile study points the finger at artificial sweeteners.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.