Snow school closures 'no harm to learning'

Snowfall closed schools in Washington Results not going downhill: Many US schools were closed by snow this winter

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Closing schools on occasional days because of bad weather does not damage learning, says a Harvard academic.

The research wanted to find an answer to the winter argument about whether schools should struggle to stay open in heavy snow or shut their doors.

Seven years of school test data showed no evidence that snow closures adversely affected results.

The worst disruption was caused when schools tried to stay open but many staff and pupils were missing.

The study, carried out by Joshua Goodman, assistant professor of public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School in Massachusetts in the US, was an attempt to measure the impact of school days lost to bad weather.

Worse to stay open

Almost as soon as the first winter snowflake falls, there are debates about whether schools should be kept open.

The study suggests there are academic arguments for them being closed.

Prof Goodman was asked by the Massachusetts education department to find out whether there really was any loss to learning from snow closures.

Looking at test results in the US state between 2003-10, he found no evidence that pupil achievement had been affected when schools were occasionally shut.

A former high school teacher himself, Prof Goodman says schools can easily adapt to short-term closures, readjusting their plans for the rest of the term.

Such a clean break seemed to cause less disruption than trying to stay open, when many pupils might not be able to get into school.

This creates a knock-on effect of pupils trying to catch up, he says. And this does seem to have a negative impact on achievement.

Prof Goodman says that arguments over a few days of snow closures can often become very "emotional" - and they overlook that many pupils miss a greater number of school days through other types of absenteeism, such as sickness or truancy.

Such absenteeism by individuals does adversely affect their results, he says, more than an occasional planned closure by the whole school.

This good news for pupils wanting an authorised day off was summarised by Prof Goodman: "Closures have no impact. Absences do."

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