January 27, 2020
The evidence is mounting that later high school starts result in benefits for students. A study funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that students who were allowed to sleep in performed better on several measures including automobile crash rates, mental health, school attendance and in some cases, grades and standardized test scores.
Recently another compelling argument has emerged to change school start times: It makes economic sense. According to an article in The New York Times, researchers at RAND Corporation performed a state-by-state analysis of the implications of starting middle and high schools later. They found that “delaying school start times to 8:30 or later would contribute $83 billion to the economy within a decade. The gains were seen through decreased car crash mortality and increased student lifetime earnings.”
Aaron E. Carroll, author of The Times article, The Economic Case for Letting Teenagers Sleep A Little Later, explains the strength of the RAND analysis:
It examined each state individually, because moving to 8:30 would be a bigger change for some than for others. It also looked at changes year by year to see how costs and benefits accrued over time. It examined downstream effects, like car accidents, which can affect lifetime productivity. And it considered multiplier effects, as changes to the lives of individual students might affect others over time.
Change is Slow
As Carrol concludes, “When it comes to start times, the growing evidence shows that forcing adolescents to get up so early isn’t just a bad health decision; it’s a bad economic one, too.”
But just because it makes sense, doesn’t mean parents and schools will readily make a shift to later start times. After all, changing school hours could infringe on after-school activity times, school bus schedules, student jobs, homework time, and that’s just at the end of the day. It would also impact morning routines for working parents and younger siblings. After all, who doesn’t look forward to breakfast with a comatose teen?