Student Well-Being

High Schoolers Still Start School Earlier Than Younger Students, Data Show

By Sarah D. Sparks — August 21, 2017 2 min read
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More than 4 in 5 U.S. high schools start earlier than doctors recommend for teenagers to learn best, new federal data show.

In its third report on the 2015-16 National Teacher and Principal Survey, the National Center for Education Statistics shows U.S. high schools start on average at 7:59 a.m., nearly 20 minutes earlier than the average elementary school. While research on the importance of teenagers getting more sleep has prompted many schools to consider later start times, the average high school start time is unchanged since 2011-12, federal data show.

The chart below details the percentage of schools by their start times as of 2015-16:

While fewer than 1 in 4 elementary schools started before 8 a.m., nearly half of high schools did so.

The federal data show traditional and charter schools had roughly similar start times, but urban and suburban schools tended to start earlier than more rural campuses, and schools with few poor students were the most likely to start by 8:30 a.m. or later.

To put that in perspective, the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended since 2014 that secondary schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., to match children’s changing sleep cycles during puberty. Last week, a California lawmaker proposed requiring all schools in the state to heed that recommendation.

In Iowa, the Charles City Community School District is one of the school systems that has started pushing back its start times in response to the sleep research. Superintendent Daniel Cox said the district now starts all schools at 8:20 a.m. “We can better meet our school district’s mission to engage, inspire, and empower our students and staff in order to maximize learning when they are well rested and have an opportunity to eat breakfast before the school day begins,” he said.

Instruction Beyond the Regular School Day

The federal data also describe what sort of programs students can participate in before and after regular school hours.

High schools were a little less likely than primary schools to offer extra academic support or advanced enrichment outside regular hours, but middle schools were more likely than either of the others to provide such programs, as the chart at left shows.

Compared to traditional public schools, charter schools were about 6 percentage points more likely to offer extra academic programs for support, and 8 percentage points more likely to offer academic enrichment programs outside the school day. In general, schools with higher concentrations of students in poverty also were more likely to offer extra enrichment or support programs.

The data come from a survey of a nationally representative sample of 8,300 principals of traditional public and charter schools, and 40,000 public school teachers, conducted for the first time in 2015-16 as a redesign of the federal Schools and Staffing Survey.


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Inside School Research blog.