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Later Start Times: Magic Bullet for Success?
posted by: Ruthie | March 18, 2013, 07:47 PM   

As experts explore the idea of extending the number of hours in a school year, the idea of starting classes later may seem counterintuitive. However, recent studies suggest that starting high school later is actually more conducive to learning for students.
A recent study of 146,000 middle school students in Wake County, North Carolina found that when school start times were pushed back by an hour, student test scores improved by 3% on average. While the sample was relatively small, the 2007 National Youth at Risk-Behavior Survey from the Center for Disease Control concluded that "for every hour of reduced sleep, the increase in crime was greater and the level of violence is greater still," said Ann Gallagher, a principal investigator. Data suggests that well-rested students are less likely to cause trouble and more likely to make academic progress.

In light of this compelling evidence, schools in Maryland, Virginia, and Missouri are moving to mandate later start times. After almost fifteen years of discussion, schools in Arlington, Virginia now start an hour later. In February, the Maryland chapter of Start School Later petitioned start time to begin at 8:15 or later. Similarly, in Columbia, Missouri a grassroots effort led by Student's Say, successfully lobbied to delay start times from 7:30am to 9am.

"We need to start the premise that 'it must be done,' said Terry Ziporyn Snider, a medical writer, historian, and co-founder of Start School Later. "The science is now at a point where start times could really be changed, but it requires community involvement."

Sleep deprivation is known to be harmful; however, it is especially dangerous for adolescents, whose bodies require more sleep than adults or young children. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adolescents who do not get adequate sleep experience problems such as impaired alertness and attention, inability to solve problems, cope with stress, and retain information. Too little sleep is also related to substance abuse and depression.

Sleep changes in adolescents is "kind of a perfect-storm scenario," said Dr. Judith Owens, the director of sleep medicine at Children's National Medical Center in Washington, with many factors "basically conspiring to increase the risks of insufficient sleep in this population."

Owens continued, "Teenagers have erratic sleep cycles, and they try to overcompensate during the weekend to 'make up' for lost sleep, but the cycle just keeps going. They're in a semi-permanent state of jet lag." The evidence, according to Dr. Owens, "is irrefutable. It's up to the community to decide whether to act on" it."

Do you think schools should start later? Does your school's start time have an impact on student success?

Comment below.
Comments (3)Add Comment
written by Parent, Maryland, January 19, 2014

Teacher, above, you need to understand the science behind this. Studies conducted on schools that shift later do in fact show that kids go to bed around the same time - it's melatonin release and stays constant - therefore they are able to get extra sleep. Here's an overview by a leading researcher:
You will see that it's not about parenting, or building character, or that the kids don't "feel like" getting up. It's about a school schedule that works with adolescent and teen biology, rather than against it. Better for kids, better for learning.
written by Stacy Simera, Ohio, January 18, 2014

Myriad health groups including the Ohio Adolescent Health Partnership have recognized the strong evidence base for later school start times, particularly for adolescents due to the later shift in sleep cycle that occurs during puberty. When school starts later teens do obtain more sleep, and we need to support adolescent health if we want our teens to become healthy adults. Let them finish puberty first, but expecting teens to prepare for adulthood by learning to fuction while sleep-deprived will unfortunately continue the pattern of drowsy driving auto accident fatalities carried out by teens and adults, sleep-related underproductivity that carries a financial burden for our nation, and a host of adult health problems tied to inadequate nightly sleep.
written by Mark, Ohio, March 20, 2013

Just because there is a later starting time does not mean the kids get an extra hour of sleep. They simply stay up later. When kids have to get up early for school, it requires a great amount of discipline and character to get up when one does not feel like it. Just as adults must function when they are not at their peak due to fatigue, kids must also learn the same skill. If the kids are staying up late, why aren't the adults telling them to go to bed?

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