School & District Management

Should Teenagers Start High School Later in the Morning? More Districts Consider It

By Catherine Gewertz — August 16, 2016 2 min read
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Should high school students get to sleep in and start school later? That’s the question two big school districts in Colorado are discussing.

Boulder and Cherry Creek, two of the state’s largest school districts, are considering moving high school start times later in 2017-18, according to Chalkbeat. High schools in Boulder currently start between 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m., but would begin instead between 8:30 a.m. and 8:45 a.m. Cherry Creek schools start between 7 a.m. and 7:30 a.m., but officials there haven’t yet set a new target start time.

The two Colorado districts are just the latest in a long string of districts that have tossed around this question. Another big district, Montgomery County, Md., moved its high school start time 20 minutes later. Seattle is letting its teenagers sleep a bit later, moving its start times for middle and high school to 8:45 a.m. this fall. Durham, N.C., shifted its first-bell time to 9 a.m. Denver’s been tossing the idea around for nearly two years and it still hasn’t gone anywhere, Chalkbeat reports.

As my colleague Evie Blad reported, mounting research suggests that teenagers do better in school if their schedules allow them to sleep in a bit and start school later. Some scientists suggest that teenagers start school at 10 a.m., Blad reports. And the American Academy of Pediatrics urges districts to start middle and high schools no earlier than 8:30 a.m.

The prospect of later high school start times seems to be of perennial interest, since anyone who works with—or has raised—adolescents knows that they drag themselves out of bed in the morning with great difficulty.

But like most things in the education world, shifting start times is complex. It triggers a cascade of interlocking logistics and considerations, with transportation at the top of that list. Districts that offer bus transportation typically transport high school students to school first, then circle back and get elementary and middle school students.

Flipping the order of those rides means changes in day care and after-care schedules for younger students, and rescheduling of high school sports and other activities after school. It’s also been known to draw objections from some parents, who argue that a later start to the high school day cuts back on the hours students can work for pay or in internships.

For more stories on later high school start times, see:

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.