Education Opinion

School Leaders Are Tardy In Supporting Teens With Later Start Times

By Patrick Larkin — April 03, 2016 2 min read
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What would your perfect school or classroom look like? What are some of the age-old practices that you would revise or do away with? I am struck by the fact that despite overwhelming research that the elimination of certain practices would benefit students, we continue on with these “traditional” approaches. Maybe it’s just easier to maintain the status quo rather than spend the time and energy discussing changes to the way we have always done things. The main question for me is what do we have to lose? Or even better, what could we gain?

Last week, I discussed homework and found little middle ground in the conversation surrounding whether or not homework helped students grow academically. Check out the comments beneath the post for the passionate responses from readers. Please add your point of view to the debate. In my opinion, the only wrong answer is one that is made with the idea that there is no room for discussion.

Moving on from the homework debate, this week I want to look at the research on later start times for high school students discuss why so few schools have heeded the advice of experts on the health of teenagers. It has been nearly 20 years since the decision was made at Edina High School in Minnesota to push the start of school back an hour. The following excerpt from Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explains the change at Edina High:

The decision to change the Edina High School start time from 7:25 to 8:30 was made in the spring of 1996 and implemented in the 1996-97 school year. The decision was made in response to a request from the Minnesota Medical Association (to all superintendents in Minnesota) to start high schools later, and that was in response to definitive medical research on adolescent sleep patterns from Brown and Johns Hopkins Universities. USA Today states that Edina was the first district in the nation to change start times based on that research."

More recently, in August of 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement titled Let Them Sleep: AAP Recommends Delaying Start Times of Middle and High Schools to Combat Teen Sleep Deprivation. The opening statement of the release read as follows:

Studies show that adolescents who don't get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems, an increased risk of automobile accidents and a decline in academic performance. But getting enough sleep each night can be hard for teens whose natural sleep cycles make it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m. - and who face a first-period class at 7:30 a.m. or earlier the next day."

Despite the fact that our healthcare professionals are imploring schools to consider starting later in an effort to allow our students to be safer and more productive, the movement on this matter is still minimal. A coalition of people at startschoollater.net has organized a number of resources to help schools that would like to allow their students to get more sleep. The site lists schools in 44 states that have adopted later start times and also shares positive statistics that have occurred because of the time changes. For instance, one school in my state of Massachusetts that made a change in start times is Nauset Regional High School. Startschoollater.net lists the following positive results that have come about since this change in 2012:

After the 2012 implementation of an hour later school start, preliminary analysis revealed: a 53 percent drop in the number of failing grades a 38 percent decline of D's and F's the number of days students were suspended for disciplinary reasons plummeted from 166 in the first two months last year to 19 days in September and October of this year. *These findings have been confirmed over time, with an additional benefit of a reduction in tardiness (3/14/16)

Schools Are Slow to Learn That Sleep Deprivation Hits Teenagers Hardest was the title of an article in the written by Dr. Aaron Carroll for the New York Times last week. Dr. Carroll’s closing line sums things up nicely in regards to changing school start times to support our teenagers. “Too few stories focus on those who are really at risk for sleep deprivation, namely teenagers. It’s not their fault. We could fix this problem for them.” Unfortunately it is school leaders who are tardy in this case. I hope more school and district leaders will make later start times a priority for their teenage students. Fortunately, the local Supertintendents in my area have come together to write a joint statement to push this topic in each of their communities. It is time for others to do the same.

The opinions expressed in Reinventing K-12 Learning are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.