Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Snowed in.

We all have this feeling there are more snow days than there were in the past, and I would love somebody to analyze whether this is true, for their school system at least. And then let’s figure out why. 

Let’s assume snow (and rain and fog and sleet) days have become more frequent over the last couple of decades but bad weather has not. Today a friend and I puzzled over possible reasons: liability concerns, more precise weather forecasting, decreased tolerance for risk? I know this sounds annoyingly a-mile-uphill-both-ways, but when you were a kid, weren’t snow days a rare, precious thing? I grew up in Wisconsin and I’m thinking weather forced closings maybe once every year or two. And it snowed. Man, it snowed. People say that one reason we can’t have school when it snows is because the sidewalks aren’t passable, but we didn’t even have sidewalks. We stuck our feet in plastic baggies, and then our moon boots, and tromped across four-foot snowbanks alongside the road. In large school districts, the microclimate of the worst-weather neighborhood usually forces closings for the whole county, because we can’t expect teachers to drive from one corner to the other, and how could we possibly manage the logistics of a partial closing anyway?

Just so you know where I am coming from: I have an attitude toward risk avoidance that some might call callous and irresponsible (I prefer to think of it as “sensible”). It does not err on the side of caution, though I am hardly reckless, and I don’t believe that, generally speaking, “If it just saves one person” is the right calculation with which to make public policy. I shovel out, then drive, slowly, in the snow. Unless of course I am feeling lazy, in which case I make a cup of cocoa and just pretend I couldn’t get anywhere even if I wanted to.

Which I think might be the rub, at least here in the D.C. area. We don’t want to do what is necessary of a place that has snow. I wrote about this once, calling Buffalo and Milwaukee in addition to local officials. The snow-to-snow-day ratio differs so much in Wisconsin and Washington because Wisconsin school districts behave like places that snow—they spend money on sufficient snow-removal equipment, use it and expect children to get to school—and the ones here don’t. Then, every single year, it snows, we act surprised, and children spend another day not learning. 

1 comment:

  1. every year it snows in Wisconsin. Some years we get no snow in DC area, and in many cases snowfalls are very small. Thus most jurisdictions lack equipment to deal with anything over about 3". Many drivers around DC don't know how to drive in wintry conditions. You should see abandoned cars.

    I grew up Westchester County, just N of NYC. We handled snow far better than DC. But then, most of our districts were much smaller, and where there were buses they had chains.

    As a teacher I am getting frustrated with (a) lost instruction time (b) constant interruptions to learning patterns. Remember, state and AP tests don't slide when the instructional days get shifted to June to make up for snow.