Technology's great, but it could eliminate snow days
One of the best parts of winter could be melting away for many Indiana students. Advances in technology are making snow days more rare.
The state's Department of Education has granted permission for many schools to hold online learning days. They would be used in cases of inclement weather. Supporters say the practice will ensure students don't miss critical instructional time. And it will help districts avoid extending the school year to make up missed days.
But not everyone is on board with the change. The move to replace face-to-face lessons with virtual instruction has sparked concern from some members of the State Board of Education.
Board member Brad Oliver said he thinks the virtual option is worth exploring. But he wants assurances about how attendance and instruction will be monitored. He thinks lawmakers should define what constitutes an instructional day in a virtual learning environment. That would help to ensure students still receive the 180 days of instruction required by state law.
"I'm concerned about students getting lost in the cracks," Oliver said. He said he couldn't foresee a 7-year-old calling up the hotline to ask a teacher for help with homework.
Last winter, some Indiana districts missed up to 15 days of school due to weather. That forced them to shorten spring breaks, extend school days and tack on extra days at the end of the year.
Schools that want to use the virtual option must ensure that teachers are available to answer questions. And provide appropriate learning activities for those with disabilities.
Schools also need to ensure that even students without home Internet service can access online learning. Many districts are opening computer labs or providing lists of businesses and libraries with free Internet. Other, more rural districts, where Internet access can be a challenge, have stuck with traditional makeup days.
Critical thinking challenge: What things are essential to make online learning work?