TRY HARDER. That’s essentially what Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Lillian M. Lowery told local school officials who wanted a broad waiver from the state for instructional days lost to snow-related school closings this year. Given that that is exactly what schools expect their students to do, it was an apt message.
In light of a calendar-busting harsh winter, the state Board of Education gave Ms. Lowery authority to grant waivers of up to five days to Maryland’s requirement that schools hold classes for a minimum of 180 days. She said she would decide on a case-by-case basis, but her rejection of initial requests by Montgomery and Anne Arundel’s school systems to forgo the majority of the days lost to instruction signaled that the state wasn’t going to be as easygoing as in other years. Rather, it wanted to make a point about the critical importance of instructional time.
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Both districts went back to the drawing boards and came up with alternative plans to make up at least part of the lost time. Montgomery, for example, opted to hold school on Easter Monday, a previously scheduled holiday, and to extend the school year. Admittedly, neither solution is ideal. No doubt some parents have made plans for the spring break, which includes Easter Monday, and days tacked on to the end of the school year are generally seen as a waste. Not a lot of learning goes on in classrooms in June to begin with, and adding days does nothing to help students who take advanced placement or international baccalaureate tests and who will take their final tests weeks earlier after missing critical days of instruction.
We wish that more school districts had given more thought to the problem sooner and considered options such as lengthening the school day, canceling teacher professional days or even having classes on Saturday. Instead they adopted a wait-and-see attitude that limited their options.
U.S. schools already lag many of their competitors in the amount of instruction time students receive. Even though parents and students will complain about conflicts and inconveniences resulting from the new makeup days, it’s good to see officials treating education like the priority it should be.