Monday, November 29, 2010

Winter in Iowa

As the warm summer days have turned cooler, it is with dread that I anticipate the snow and cold that typifies an Iowa Winter.  This is never my favorite time of year.  The motorcycle essentially stays in the garage (I try to brave the cold/snow/ice one day a month for some inexplicable reason), the driveway will be in need of clearing as will the walkways, the yard becomes unusable, and I simply don't like being cold.  Some people love it and always will.  This is not my category. 
This year, however, I am able to add yet another piece to the "anti-winter" stance that I maintain.  As Superintendent of Schools, it is my responsibility to determine whether the roads and weather are in such condition that delaying or cancelling school is necessary.  Typically I like to have the responsibility placed on me and accept the blame when it goes wrong.  However, I'm not really a weather-watching guy on my own, and this whole prospect is a little unnerving.  This may be the one factor I now dislike the most about winter. 
There is good news in two parts.  One, it is no longer the "Lone Ranger" approach of driving a few back roads (hopefully with success) to determine passability.  Access to information abounds, and most superintendents across the state communicate with others in the area to discuss pros and cons of such actions.  The second piece is that it isn't really something new to me.  I have made the call several times in the past when our Superintendent was not available, so there is some comfort in having that experience (a bonus is that each decision was essentially good or at least I'd make the same call again in hindsight-that won't always be the case). 
Now that it is my responsibility, however, I find that my nights are a little less restful when the wind blows or the report indicates ice is on the way.  The irony is that there isn't even any snow on the ground right now, but I worry about what I may have missed.  I'm an early riser most of the time, but I'm sure that one time that I sleep in to 6 AM or something will turn out to be the morning that we get 8 inches of snow and high winds with a temperature of about 28.  Those are the days that really require some conscious thought and communication, and I hope that there are enough safeguards in place that will alert me to that situation so I don't sleep through the opportunity.



Tina said...

Research Design

Our studies use variation from one year to the next in snow or the number of instructional days cancelled due to bad weather to explain changes in each school’s test scores over time. We also take into account changing characteristics of schools and students, as well as trends in performance over time. The advantage of this approach is that weather is obviously outside the control of school districts and thereby provides a source of variation in instructional time that should be otherwise unrelated to school performance. Furthermore, Maryland and Colorado are ideal states in which to study weather-related cancellations. In addition to having large year-to-year fluctuations in snowfall, annual snowfall in both states typically varies widely across In Maryland and Colorado, some districts are exposed to much greater variation in the severity of their winters than others, which allows us to use the remaining districts to control for common trends shared by all districts in the state. Further, because we have data from many years, we can compare students in years with many weather-related cancellations to students in the same school in previous or subsequent years with fewer cancellations. Although cancellations are eventually made up, tests are administered in the spring in both states. This is months before the makeup days held prior to summer break.

In Marcotte (2007) and Hansen (2008), we estimate that each additional inch of snow in a winter reduced the percentage of 3rd-, 5th-, and 8th-grade students who passed math assessments by between one-half and seven-tenths of a percentage point, or just under 0.0025 standard deviations. To put that seemingly small impact in context, Marcotte reports that in winters with average levels of snowfall (about 17 inches) the share of students testing proficient is about 1 to 2 percentage points lower than in winters with little to no snow. Hansen reports comparable impacts from additional days with more than four inches of snow on 8th-grade students’ performance on math tests in Colorado.

Marcotte and Steven Hemelt (2008) collected data on school closures from all but one school district in Maryland to estimate the impact on achievement. The percentage of students passing math assessments fell by about one-third to one-half a percentage point for each day school was closed, with the effect largest for students in lower grades. Hansen (2008) found effects in Maryland that are nearly identical to those reported by Marcotte and Hemelt, and larger, though statistically insignificant, results in Colorado. Hansen also took advantage of a different source of variation in instructional time in Minnesota. Utilizing the fact that the Minnesota Department of Education moved the date for its assessments each year for six years, Hansen estimated that the percentage of 3rd- and 5th-grade students with proficient scores on the math assessment increased by one-third to one-half of a percentage point for each additional day of schooling.

Interesting stuff? Now to find information on safety concerns to weigh that against losses in learning.Loss of Life vs. Loss of learning time ,Life wins every time. Can you find that information?

Tina said...

Sorry forgot to post the link to the article above. The article is very good and relates how missed school days (due to snow) resulted in lower Math and Reading scores mainly for elementary classes. It also talks about the benefit of moving testing days to the spring which helps scores improve.

Marshall said...

I'll read as soon as I post. I agree that it is clear that life vs. learning is an obvious choice with life clearly more fragile and important. What I am concerned with it that not every snowstorm means loss of life, but every cancellation does mean loss of learning opportunity. The comment I always hear is "better to stay on the safe side" when talking closings. Yes, better to protect the lives of kids, true. What about the deidcation I have as an educator to maximize learning opportunities though. It really does get complex as there really isn't a safe answer. One recent call boiled down to how accurate the prediction was. If we got the ice/cold/wind that was predicted, it would be silly to still be in school. If those factors missed us, it would be moronic to cancel a perfectly good day of learning. Unfortunately, it is impossible to tell exactly what is going to happen every time. Best decision based on the information it is possible to gather.

Marshall said...

Ok. Now I've read the article. Yes, it makes sense that time does relate to learning (good foundational reasoning). I am really struggling with the concept, however, that we are learning less than students fifty years ago. Not only are the students more prepared in the traditional coursework, we have added so much, especially technology, to the plate of learning. It's off the topic, but I can't believe that my HS graduate has actually learned LESS than I did when I graduated. Makes me question some of the other assumptions that are made here.

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