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Thread: Do Schools Begin Too Early?

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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Nov 2005
    Wayland MA

    Default School start times: the early bird may not always get the worm

    Some interesting thoughts on school start time are included in the "Schools are Prisons" thread. Prompted by a Boston Globe Ideas "snippet," I thought that they were worthy of putting in to a conversation of their own.

    Sleeping in for better grades
    Although many high schools and colleges begin class early in the morning, it’s no secret that teenagers have a hard time being awake at that hour. Nevertheless, the case for delaying school start times hasn’t always been clear. Now, researchers think they have some hard evidence. They analyzed the effects of having an early class schedule on the grades of freshmen students at the Air Force Academy. Students had to take standardized core courses but were randomly assigned to different class sections. Not only were grades lower in early classes, but, for students with an early start time, grades were also lower in classes later in the day.

    Carrell, S. et al., “A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Achievement of Adolescents,” American Economic Journal: Economic Policy (August 2011).

    Here are excerpts from the other thread:

    Post 5
    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein
    Neurological research shows that optimal learning for teenagers would start much later in the day, would never involve lectures exceeding 10 minutes in duration, and would be conducted while students were in motion. Learning is optimized by linking instruction to each student's active interests, and by continuously challenging each student in a range centered on his or her current skill levels - triggering the dopamine reward system. Retention is maximized by continuous testing, as opposed to lecture-lecture-lecture-lecture-lecture-cram-cram-cram-test.
    Post 10
    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    I've advocated elsewhere for later start times for older students. There may be other studies, but one that I'm aware of (and that the School Committee looked at a few years back) was based on some work in MN. Here's an interesting quote from the study:

    Quote Originally Posted by University of Minnesota College of Education + Human Development
    For example, initially Edina parents were concerned about the effect of later starts on such logistical issues as busing, athletics, and child care for younger students. But at the end of the first year of implementation, 92 percent of respondents on a survey for Edina high school parents indicated that they preferred the later start times.
    Would 11a-7p be workable? Perhaps. Sports and other co-curricular activities might take place before 11a, for instance. No idea whether a change as dramatic as 11a is necessary, though. Perhaps 9a gets most of the benefit?

    Ultimately, Wayland opted not to pursue a change in start times (ES starting earlier, MS/HS starting later) because other districts in the Dual County League weren't interested enough in making a similar change to allow sports schedules to synch up. One could argue that sports shouldn't be the tail wagging the educational dog, but if part of the objective here is to tailor learning to students abilities, motivations, and needs in order to arrive at the best outcomes, co-curricular activities need to be part of the conversation.
    Post 14
    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein
    Two key quotes from that study:

    1. "From the onset of puberty until late teen years, the brain chemical melatonin, which is responsible for sleepiness, is secreted from approximately 11 p.m. until approximately 8 a.m., nine hours later. This secretion is based on human circadian rhythms and is rather fixed. In other words, typical youth are not able to fall asleep much before 11 p.m. and their brains will remain in sleep mode until about 8 a.m., regardless of what time they go to bed."

    2. "With classes in most high schools in the United States starting at around 7:15 a.m., high school students tend to rise at about 5:45 or 6 a.m. in order to get ready and catch the bus."

    If teen student brains will remain in sleep mode until about 8 am and students must typically rise 90 minutes before arriving at school, then 9:30 am would be the earliest start time one might contemplate. Taking into account variations in sleep patterns (not all students will fall asleep by 11 pm) and morning logistics, 10:30 am would be more appropriate.

    While the Edina parents and teachers evidently saw educational benefits, delaying high school start times from 7:20 am to 8:30 am was still optimizing for day care over education.
    Post 15
    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach
    Without an "effectiveness curve" for wake time, there's no evidence that 8:30am is an optimization of custody over education. If 8:30am represents a 60% educational improvement over 7:30am, for instance (and that's purely a made-up number), then it might be fairer to call it a gain with a partial compromise for custody (which has a real big-picture value). And, it may be that 8:30am allows for valuable co-curricular benefits. If that's not late enough, maybe 9:00 (which "sacrifices" only 30 minutes of sleep mode--perhaps that's not too significant a compromise) or 9:30am is the best balance of the various factors. In such a case, education and custody may not be badly conflicting, but rather, only slightly at odds with one another.
    Last edited by Jeff Dieffenbach; 08-14-2011 at 09:32 AM. Reason: Added link to Edina start time study


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