Blizzard bags are busywork

Published February 26, 2014 by justicewg
Snow_bag

Flickr user Forgottengenius (cc)

Super O’Reilly has emailed about a new program the schools will be using for any future emergency days off. “Blizzard Bags” have no snow inside, and for most students there will be no physical bag. From everything I have read about the content of this new program, the bags are shorthand for busy work, something to plug into the formula that shows education has continued even though the school has missed a day. O’Reilly’s email is after the jump.

There are two big problems in assigning material to students on snow days, the first is that the books that are needed to continue the flow of instruction are probably sitting in a locker at school. Even if the assignment would use supplementary material that could be accessed online, there is no guarantee that all students have the computers and bandwidth to do this work (a smart phone may be nearly universal for kids, but the ability to use it to complete a class assignment is not). This results in the B.B. assignment becoming a supplement to the class that has a two week completion date.

The second problem is that class work can be highly sequential, first concept A is taught, which is used to introduce concept B, then C, etc. Math classes depend on this sort of learning almost exclusively. When a snow day hits unexpectedly, the teacher can’t expect everyone to faithfully keep up the flow of instruction on a day out of school. The B.B. material will be a review of old material, which can be good, but for most students will be seen as busy work.

I understand the thinking in introducing Blizzard Bags, nobody wants to tack on extra days to the school year or require students to attend Saturday classes because of extra bad winters. The problem is that the B.B. assignment is not as good as real classroom time, and making a poor replacement for lost days is not the way to improve the teaching experience.

This also pushes open the door a bit for online classes to be used as a replacement for real classroom instruction with a teacher. As more classroom material (books, quizzes, etc.) are placed online, the idea that a B.B. day of online instruction is “good enough” can lead to it being used in more classes. The actual experience of online instruction has shown it is far inferior, it is a terrible replacement for real classes in front of real teachers. It is cheap though, and in the present mania to cut all government costs, cheap often trumps good.

O’ Reilly’s email about the Blizzard Bags follows:

Dear Families:
As you are aware, we have now used all five of our allotted Calamity Days.  Any additional Calamity Days would need to be made up on dates previously approved by the Board of Education.  These dates are currently scheduled for a number of Saturdays during March and April.  Recently, with the approval of the Board of Education and the Ohio Department of Education, Grandview Heights City School District will be able to utilize Online Calamity Days (Blizzard Bags) instead of our scheduled Saturday make-up dates.  We may use up to three Online Calamity Days before we would be required to utilize Saturday make-up sessions.  With this in mind, I wanted you to be aware that if there is a need to close schools between now and the end of this school year, we will utilize Blizzard Bags.
In the event of a school closure, families will receive an e-mail from the school district with information on how to access the assignments for the day.  This e-mail will be sent before 9:00 a.m.  Students that cannot complete the work or students that do not have access to a computer will have up to two weeks to complete the posted assignments.  During the two week time period, teachers will allow students to use school computers to complete the work or, upon request, will provide hard copies of the assignments when possible.
Currently, the state is considering the approval of additional Calamity Days.  Whether or not the state approves additional Calamity Days, we will utilize Blizzard Bags in the event of school closures.
It is my hope that there will be no further Calamity Days.  However, in case we close schools we wanted to provide this information so that we may answer any questions in advance.  If you do have questions, please e-mail me.  Thank you.
Ed O’Reilly

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