Oh no! Another snow day!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Annually, we can count on the wringing of hands and the boo-hoo-hoos from all quarters regarding school snow days and the many scheduling problems they can cause.

If they're tacked on to the end of the school year, they run into June and this wreaks havoc with distracted, non-attentive students, youth baseball and softball, students' summer jobs, family vacations, and, in some instances interference with a teacher's continuing education process.

This year, in the midst of the brutal winter weather, historic in some areas, schools are scrambling to resolve the woes of making up the missed days. The Cherokee District is planning to have students attend classes until 1 p.m. on three previously scheduled days off for Professional Development to make up half of the snow days accrued so far.

Other Iowa schools have discussed possibly holding classes on Saturdays, lengthening the days to compensate by the hour, shortening or eliminating spring breaks, etc., rather then extending too far into June.

But what is the actual crux of the matter, the elephant in the room, so to speak?

Forget all the periphery, it's the State's mandated 180 days of instruction - a tidy 90 days each semester preferred by many districts, which forces early August starts to allow the semester to end before the Christmas break.

The early starts are already a problem for many as districts keep inching backwards in August to begin the school year earlier and earlier to make room for that mandated 90-day semester and other "stuff" by Christmas time.

We simply ask those omnipotent beings obviously steeped in academia who first instituted the 180-day rule, Why?

Does that mean if the school year is 178 or 179 days, our students will dumb down? If it's 181 or 182 days, that will make them all the smarter?

What about a focus on the quality of instruction instead of a restrictive number of days limit? What about adhering to more local control so our students and administrators and faculty and school staff and parents can adjust on the fly as the school year rolls by?

We all agree that teacher/pupil face-to-face is paramount, but communication through technology is now squarely on our side in this matter. Let our computers aid in an accelerated process.

Can't we let our school leaders lead and trust in them to do the right thing at the right time with our students' achievement the top priority, and not how many days they might languish in a boring classroom? Is physical attendance more important than learning efficiency? Is time the only avenue to student achievement?

The Eagles once sang, "So often times it happens that we live our lives in chains, and we never even know we have the key."

We think our schools and their leaders have the key. Open the door and let's move on.