June 1, 2020
The move to push school start times back may finally be gaining national momentum.
Despite years of research showing the benefits to adolescents of starting school at 8:30 instead of 7:30, along with the full-throated support from sleep experts and the American Academy of Pediatrics, the majority of school systems have ignored the hue and cry.
But as recently reported, that may be changing: “From Saco, Maine, to Seattle, many districts have already successfully pushed back the start times of high schools and middle schools—and with largely positive results.” The article confirms the benefits, including a 40% drop in tardiness and nearly 50% fewer nurse visits in the Saco district. In Minnesota, the extra hour has been associated with improvements in academic performance outcomes as well as higher standardized test scores.
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, teens require 8 to 10 hours of sleep daily. But adolescent bodies naturally want to go to bed later at night and wake up later in the morning: “School start times forcing teens to wake up before 6 a.m. clearly do not align with teens’ sleep needs.”
Without the appropriate amount of sleep, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns teens “are at risk for a host of serious physical problems, including obesity and diabetes; safety concerns, including drowsy driving; issues related to mental health, including increased anxiety, depression, and decreased motivation; and a decrease in school performance, such as cognitive impairment, problems with attention and memory, lower academic achievement, poor attendance, and higher dropout rate.”
Why then, do school districts continue to resist making the change? Unwillingness to make changes is often couched in excuses ranging from the impact on budgets and bus schedules to after-school activities, but as noted in the Ed Week article “the main issue, experts studying the change agree, is one of simple inconvenience. Schools and their communities have been so accustomed to the current schedule that many are resistant to change. It’s much easier to do what has always been done.”
As the article concluded, “Outdated schedules are failing many students. We can no longer be complacent. As schools look for an answer to boost student attendance, performance, and engagement, making a change in start times for secondary students is an obvious solution.”