Spring may be here, but some districts still have to deal with winter

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While the snow may be gone, its impact lingers. School districts across the country are scrambling to make up "snow days" to meet state-required minimums for instructional time. Districts differ in how they make up for the lost time. Many extend the school year or school day, while others open on days originally scheduled as school breaks.

Of course, none of these approaches is ideal. Rearranging the school year means rescheduling vacations, adjusting lesson plans and reorganizing everything from field trips to band concerts. Despite these challenges, all this is necessary in order to provide sufficient time to learn and master curricula.

Even with these adjustments, many school districts will still struggle to meet state requirements and teachers will be hard pressed to find time to fully cover the curriculum. This year, some states are offering waivers, which give districts permission to skimp on the minimum instructional time limits. Such is the case in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) in Maryland. The district submitted a proposal requesting a waiver for six of the 10 snow days used by the district this year. A revised proposal was ultimately approved requiring schools to be open one day during spring break and pushing back the last day of school by one day; the state waived the remaining four days. This means MCPS students will receive 176 instructional days this year, or eight days fewer than what was originally scheduled.

Opinions of both the waiver and the plan for making up some of the instructional time are mixed. But missing eight instructional days stands out to us as a serious loss.  Long gone are the days when children sat and watched videos for hours on end at the end of the school year; every school day is now more meaningful than ever in the instructional process.

Those who argue that state testing happens in March and there is no curriculum "to cover" once the testing is over fail to recognize that the curriculum is designed on a March-March cycle. Those who argue that teachers can meet all of the instructional goals while making up for lost time fail to recognize that teachers are not magicians; they plan lessons and design meaningful activities every day and cannot simply shrink instruction to fit when time disappears.

The impact of severe weather on school calendars will undoubtedly cause headaches for hundreds of districts across the country this year and for years to come. As districts move forward with the challenge of finding solutions to this problem, policy makers must remain mindful of the importance of instructional time and the valuable work that happens each and every day in the classroom.