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Posted at 6:30 AM ET, 02/10/2010

Should kids get homework on snow days?

By Valerie Strauss

I found myself between arguments about what kids should and shouldn’t be doing while schools are closed by back-to-back snow storms that have left the Washington D.C. region paralyzed for days on end.

I’ve been writing about this issue , saying that kids should in fact do something other than play video games. I've also asked children of different ages whether they think they should be studying, and, knowing that they just had Christmas break and that spring break beckons, they invariably giggle somewhat sheepishly and say “yes.”

Post education reporters and editors had an e-mail discussion about an email we received, which asked how many teachers were using Blackboard communications to post assignments. School systems have spent millions of dollars to install Blackboard on their websites. The emailer said her children's teachers were not using it, and she was irritated.

Here’s the way an e-mail among education editors and reporters went (punctuation as written):

Wrote one reporter:

Besides the obvious reason that people given a day off will generally take the day off, there's a real equity issue about distance learning--not every kid or parent can access this stuff every day. Real, sustained online access is a barrier for many kids. So schools that try to teach kids at home risk widening the gap between haves and have-nots.

I responded:

that's true, but why leave the majority of kids who CAN be doing work doing nothing?....

Then another education editor weighed in:

This is Washington super-achievement run amok. Let the kids have a few days off. It won't kill them.

To which the reporter responded:

Easy for you to say!
Your kids are already in college...
Who's going stir crazy this week at YOUR house?

To which I say: I’ll ask my readers to make the call. I'd love to hear from parents and teachers about what is possible.


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By Valerie Strauss  | February 10, 2010; 6:30 AM ET
Categories:  Homework, Learning  | Tags:  homework  
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I'm an assistant principal at a high performing DC public charter school. When we heard about the storm, early on, we intervened by compiling and disseminating grade-by-grade homework packets; each packet was aligned to teachers' pacing guides and lesson plans. I'm sure students were given enough homework to last about 10 days (too bad we were unable to include a cure for cabin fever). However, I believe having kids sitting home playing video games, watching television and doing nothing is irresponsible and unintelligent on the part of schools, parents, and in some cases, students.

Posted by: rasheeedj | February 10, 2010 7:13 AM | Report abuse

DC Sent out a link for educational things to do on-line. I have not yet checked it out as the one house computer has been monopolized working remotely from home. But dare I suggest kids read? We have to do school book reports and took the opportunity to get to the library and select several to get those projects done. We are also reading several books as a family. Percy Jackson for the movie this weekend. If you have a mythology book around to supplement it, it can be a great learning activity.

Posted by: Brooklander | February 10, 2010 7:52 AM | Report abuse

Oh, the magic of a snow day! I can still hear the squeal of delight when we heard the news that school was cancelled. Here are a few things we did back in the Midwest while a blizzard was raging outside:
1) Baked chocolate chip cookies
2) Strummed a guitar
3) Snuggled up with a good book
4) Learned how to knit
5) Started a 500 piece puzzle
6) Shoveled the sidewalk (five times)
This was the 1980s not the 1880s. Turn off the TV and video games and enjoy the blizzard!

Posted by: nordicskichic | February 10, 2010 9:19 AM | Report abuse

My strategy was that kids had to:

1) practice their instrument as usual,
2) complete assignments they came home with
3) spend some time reading their "at home" book.

Keeping the music practice going usually provided all the conflict that any were willing to tolerate during snow days.

If your kid is motivated to do more then they will, otherwise forget it.

Posted by: RedBird27 | February 10, 2010 9:57 AM | Report abuse

Rasheedj, your school showed foresight, and I commend you for that. However, at my DCPS school, we were told that we *would* be in school Monday, to plan accordingly, and to tell the kids the same thing. Another complicating factor- even if individual teachers wanted to display some sanity and plan for the storm instead of rally against it (a la Fenty's "DC will be running on Monday"), our school doesn't trust us to make our own copies. We would have had to submit copies for packets Thurs. am, and they'd have to meet admin approval, and planning for the storm, as previously mentioned was not part of admin's plan. Our kids' loss.

And yes, I agree with Valerie's mention of how giving extra work would widen the already-present gap between kids who do work outside of school and kids who don't.

Posted by: uva007 | February 10, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Secondary school students (who have internet access) have the option to practice HSA testing & SAT Prep. via Prince George's County public school website.

"Study Island" is available for primary school students as well for MSA, math or language arts practice via (student must have username and password).

My kids have been utilizing both to include other academic enhancements that we make readily available at home.

I agree with you Valerie. Just because school is closed should not disallow an opportunity for children to continue some level of academic productivity use of their time.

Have fun, play in the snow, bake cookies, read a book or how about reorganizing closets, but default to video games and TV watching all day is not automatic...well...not in my house anyway.

Posted by: PGCResident1 | February 10, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Can we assume that all the parents and teachers who are horrified that the students didn't have assignments to do on a snow day were contacted by their bosses and given specific assignments to do at home? I know a lot of people worked from home, but were these specific assignments or work you preferred to do at home rather than try to catch up when you got back? Or did your boss call with specific tasks for you to accomplish while at home so you weren't wasting time baking cookies, watching a movie, or--horrors--playing with your kids?

Why is unassigned time so valuable for adults and such a danger for children? Am I the only person who got to college and was astonished to find out how much more spare time you have when you are supposedly studying much harder?

Posted by: sideswiththekids | February 10, 2010 1:00 PM | Report abuse

Why not use the same system we had for the H1N1? It's 2010, why can't we get classes going via Skype or something?

I too am okay with kids finding things to do on their own. They are reading, doing puzzles, sledding, building forts and igloos. At least the first lady should be happy they are out and about.

Mother Nature is the only thing that can quiet Washington, maybe we should take this time and use it to learn some out of school things too.

Posted by: Peppered | February 10, 2010 1:34 PM | Report abuse

The severe weather being experienced on the East Coast is, in some ways, analogous to the "furlough days" inflicted upon kids in Hawaii. (some might even describe the combination of Governor, Legislature, Union and Education bureaucracy as a natural disaster too.) One of the ways my school is beginning to address the loss of learning is by bringing in online tools. A good example is the MHS AP European History Wiki. Students recently had a two day journal discussion. During the discussion, there were more than 300 wiki posts by students, teacher, and an administrator. (me). I also take issue with comments that try to argue for a tyranny of the minority. Perhaps we should follow Finland's lead and declare that broadband access is a fundamental necessity for full citizen participation?

Posted by: cellodad | February 10, 2010 4:11 PM | Report abuse

For heaven's sake, let the kids have a day off. My kids baked cookies with a neighbor and built an excellent snow Sphinx in the front yard. Then they played "swordfight" with swords they made out of balloons.

These activities were more worth their time than probably 90% of the homework they've gotten.

Posted by: FedUpMom | February 10, 2010 7:46 PM | Report abuse

I teach in a private school in Maryland and when it became clear on Tuesday that we would be out the rest of the week, I started to think about whether to assign "Snow Storm" homework. I was not required to do so by my school, but was concerned about losing time from the material I want to see covered in my courses.

There are obvious pros and cons, but I ultimately came down on assigning homework. Fortunately, our school uses a system called Moodle to keep in touch with students. As the first storm approached, I warned my students to periodically check Moodle for possible assignments. So I was able to post assignments for all my classes. I know at least some students got the assignments because I have answered emails from students clarifying the assignments. I also know that some students will claim not to have known about them despite the emails I sent to alert them. In the end, however, it seemed worth all the potential issues to keep students focused and on schedule for what I want to cover for the year (particularly in my AP government class where the students take an external assessment that I have no control over with regard to content or timing).

I did get a positive comment from a student who did his work right away because he would otherwise have been forced to do chores and a comment from a parent who was grateful her son would have something to do other than play video games all day long.

Posted by: chuckgoetz | February 12, 2010 5:40 PM | Report abuse

I would have loved to have assigned work through Edline, but MCPS students aren't required to use the system. If maybe 1/2 the students did it(I'm an optimist), under MCPS grading policy, I couldn't either penalize those who didn't or give extra credit to those who did. I'd have to reassign it when we returned anyway --essentially giving some students extra time to complete the work wich would be unfair.

Posted by: a_m_b_hall | February 15, 2010 10:38 PM | Report abuse

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