When should school start?

In 2011-2012 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended that high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later; however, according to Finley Edwards, the average start time in the United States is 8:00 a.m.

Edwards received a PhD in economics from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He studied Labor Economics of Education. Edwards has taught at Colby College and at Baylor.

Edwards wrote for Education Next in Wake County, North Carolina, which is home to the 16th largest school district in the United States. Edwards found that when the district decided to move their middle school time back one hour from 7:30 to 8:30. Math scores in the school went up by 1.8% and reading scores went up 1%. The study, which involved students from ages 11 to 14, showed that the scores from the 14 year old students went up more.

In an interview, Dr. Kyla Wahlstrom suggested that it effected the teenage students more positively because of a biological shift that occurs in teens. Because most teenagers’ bodies won’t let them fall asleep before 10:30, teenagers have no choice but to stay up much later than adults and young children.

In a study that Wahlstorm conducted, all of these schools had improved school attendance, standardized test scores, and academic performance in Math, English, Science, and Social Studies. They also saw a fall in the number of students that were tardy, abusing substances, showing symptoms of depression, and consuming caffeinated drinks. Her study involved 9,000 plus students over 3 years in 9 schools in were they started 8:30 or later.

According to the American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP), middle and high schoolers should start at 8:30 or later. Dr. Cora Breuner, a professor of Adolescent Medicine in the Department of Orthopedics at Seattle Children’s Hospital and the University of Washington, said, “We truly believe that our teenagers are getting 6 to 7 hours of sleep a night, and they need 8 to 10.” The AAP agrees: it is difficult, if not impossible, for many teenagers to fall asleep before 10:30. This is because of a 2 hour circadian rhythm shift. The AAP also states that 59% of middle schoolers don’t get enough sleep and that 87% of high schoolers don’t get enough sleep either. However, the CDC said that 66% of students get 8 or more hours of sleep if their school starts at 8:55 or later.

Wahlstrom said, “I was skeptical since I was an elementary school principal” which was before she had started her studies. She also said that the study showed kids were able to stay awake in class more (teachers agreed). Behavior problems went down and parents said their kids were easier to live with. Students had better grades, better morale, less depression, and the schools were better at athletics as well.

When asked what was most surprising about her study, she claimed that it was that car crashes went down. A 70% decrease in car crashes was found in one of the schools in the study. She later stated that these results would make sense, considering adults are more likely to get in a car accident when sleep deprived. In her study, students went to sleep on average between 10:45 and 11:00.

She also said around 87% of students got the recommenced sleep time, but schools that started at 7:30 only 33% got enough sleep. Moving school back one hour at minimum doubles the amount of students that get enough sleep. She also said “It seems 8 hours is a tipping point” between drug, alcohol, and cigarette use.

She told PNN that she is doing more research and schools still do contact her about once a week on whether or not they should move their school start time back. She said schools need to reach out to her. She also said she thinks schools should do it for the students’ well-being, not just test scores. She doesn’t recommend a decision for schools, but instead she just tells them to look at the evidence.

There are obstacles that school districts would have to face if making the change. One major obstacle is money. Fairfax county in Virginia spent 5 million dollars the first year and will spend 3.6 more million dollars in their school budget the second year, to make this change. Some schools, on the other hand, end up saving money. The time change puts their school start times closer to other schools in their district.

The National Sleep Foundation found that there could be 8 issues with this switch and came up with 8 solutions as well. The first issue is transportation of students having to catch a public bus or school corporations having to hire more buses. They suggest that the public buses can move their schedules back for students and to switch elementary school start time with high school start times for school buses unless the high school starts too early since younger children need 10 to 11 hours of sleep.

The second issue would be how late after school activities would be. The National Sleep Foundation found that schools that switched had very few issues and that with more sleep the athletes preformed better and coaches reported very little issues as well.

Another issue is younger students and providing programs for them. They think that communities will come together for a solution or schools can start an after school program for younger students. Also students would not be able to use the public library as long as normal, but the the National Sleep Foundation arguers that with a later start that students would be more efficient when they aren’t sleep deprived.

They suggested there could be an issue with teachers, but they found that teachers were able to spend more time with their younger children in the morning, work out, connect current news with what they plan on teaching, and coaches say this doesn’t effect them either, when it comes to school athletics.

The final three issues would be stress on families, resistance from the students and community. The National Sleep Foundation suggest that schools give proper warning to give families time to change their schedule and educate the community on the health benefits for students.

Washington Post writers Julie Zauzmer and Dana Hedgpeth wrote that teachers in the Montgomery county in Maryland were against the idea of moving the start time back with 72% teachers thinking it won’t make a difference in academic performance and that 65% of teachers said it would cause problems for students that play sports.

Parents and health experts are lobbing for it. Tom Israel, Executive Director of Montgomery County Education Association, says that teachers were pretty strong in believing that it won’t have any impact on academic achievement. The teachers are also concerned about lower income families with students who have to work after school or take care of younger children and how late after school activities would last.

However 42% of teachers said it would help students health, however 41% said it wouldn’t. Michael Rubinstein a parent said, “Teachers are criticized because they don’t have anything to back up their claims and the bottom line is, teachers don’t want to do it, and they’re making excuses, they’re concerned about what impact this has on them and not the students. Educators cited My Home Schedule, I’d rather leave school at the earliest time possible to avoid commuting traffic and starting later means kids will stay up later at night.” 5,800 students also responded and said it could negatively effect them.

The studies have shown that moving school back at least an hour not only benefits students health and test scores for borderline students. With this information now you can make you choice.