Have e-days gained enough traction to usurp the snow day?

To many K-12 students, there's only one thing that's as exciting as summer vacation: unexpected days off during the winter. Snow days can offer students a welcome break from their regular schedules, with time to goof off, catch up on studies, or socialize.

But that might be changing. More schools nationwide are transforming expectations around what students do when the weather is too dangerous to attend classes.

Exactly what they sound like, increasingly popular "e-days" see students attend school remotely via the Internet.  

At the Benjamin Logan Local School District in Logan County, OH, this year marks a turn for district officials and school staff. Instead of facing yet another unpredictable winter calendar, they've created a "Memo of Understanding" to guide how snow days will be handled.

Passed in December 2015, the document is referred to as a "pacesetting agreement," the Bellefonte Examiner reports. In part, it mandates that if more than five days of school are missed due to weather, e-days will be used.

The state permits no more than five snow days to be accrued annually. Otherwise, additional school days are tacked onto school calendars at the end of the academic year.

Using e-days means the official end of school and start of summer won't be dramatically affected by sudden midweek snowfalls.

In Indiana's Zionsville Community School District, school officials have also planned ahead for treacherous winter weather. Though only a few school days are generally missed every winter, the Indiana Department of Education approved the district's request to use e-days instead of tacking on additional school days to delay the beginning of summer.

Zionsville Superintendent Dr. Scott Robison told the Zionsville Current that no more than two consecutive e-days would be used in a row. Elementary students who might not have web access at home would be given additional days in which to finish their assignments.

Not just for incremental weather

Hoover, AL, the local board of education recently decided to approve a 2016-17 school calendar that, at one point, considered using e-days for reasons unrelated to snow or ice. 

Instead, the idea was brought up as a means of preventing summer vacation from shortening due to professional development. One Hoover board member said the tactic would allow students to return to school later in August.

According to reporting by the Hoover Sun, however, Assistant Superintendent Melody Greene told the board that e-days "were very unpopular" in the district.

Still, the model is already used regularly elsewhere in the state to supplement traditional classroom study.

Beginning in 2011, the city of Mountain Brook began adopted e-days, and the second-largest district in the state, Jefferson County, has also adopted the use of two per year to continue instruction for students while teachers engage in professional development.

In both Alabama districts, the majority of students have access to the Internet at home and at public libraries, making the move possible.

Donna Williamson, director of technology for the Mountain Brook district, told Alabama.com that the initial rollout was challenging since students were working on various devices and computers, and because the district had to offer instant tech support to students. That meant app-based assignments were out, with the bulk doled out via web-based interfaces. But now, four years later, she says e-days are executed with ease.

Kentucky, Ohio, Kentucky, West Virginia, and New Jersey are among other states using e-days.

But are they effective?

A dearth of data exists related to the efficacy of e-days.

The president of the International Association for K-12 Online Learning (InACOL), Susan Patrick, recently noted that one 2006 study on e-learning found that students in Singapore devote a week annually to remote learning, with successful outcomes. And in a 2009 report by Patrick for InACOL, she pointed out the fact that few rigorous research studies regarding the effectiveness of online K-12 learning had been published.

At the same time, however, she found that students taking all or part of their class online generally performed better than those taking the same course via traditional face-to-face instruction. And of course, for districts serving students from low-income backgrounds, e-days might not be possible, given that Internet access is a requisite for participation. 

But until significant research is published, many districts are likely to remain reluctant to embrace the model.

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