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Thread: Do Schools Begin Too Early?

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    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, itís no secret that teenagers have a hard time being awake at that hour. Nevertheless, the case for delaying school start times hasnít 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., ďAís from Zzzzís? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Achievement of Adolescents,Ē 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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    Suppose education systems were rated on a scale of 0 to 100 based on the percentage of their students that reach their full potential. Further suppose that we'd discovered a way for an education system to reliably achieve a score of 100, but in a manner that (among other things) would require eliminating all of the "compromises for custody" and "co-curricular benefits" you mention above. In this hypothetical scenario, how far would you be willing to lower an educational system's score in order to retain the "compromises for custody" and "co-curricular benefits" you mention above?

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Suppose education systems were rated on a scale of 0 to 100 based on the percentage of their students that reach their full potential. Further suppose that we'd discovered a way for an education system to reliably achieve a score of 100, but in a manner that (among other things) would require eliminating all of the "compromises for custody" and "co-curricular benefits" you mention above. In this hypothetical scenario, how far would you be willing to lower an educational system's score in order to retain the "compromises for custody" and "co-curricular benefits" you mention above?
    How do students reach 100% of their full potential if all co-curricular benefits are eliminated?

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    Regarding the USAFA start time study (link):

    1. All students at the Air Force Academy are required to have breakfast at the same time every morning, leading the authors to surmise that they all wake up at about the same time. Most of the effect they find, therefore, is due to circadian rhythms, i.e. the students being naturally more awake at certain times of day than at other times, rather that sleep deprivation.
    2. On the other hand, the authors found that the relatively poor performance of students who had first-period classes carried over into their later classes as well. This seems to me to contradict the circadian rhythm theory.
    3. The authors hypothesize that students with first-period classes may actually be suffering from (relatively more severe) sleep deprivation than those who donít have a first-period class, because those with the earlier classes stay up late at night to prepare, while their colleagues are able to prepare in the morning. So perhaps most of the effect actually is attributable to sleep deprivation after all.


    Which leads me to wonder: Is homework (or, more specifically, homework that keeps students up much later than they should be up) a factor in this equation? Does sleep deprivation caused by homework (which if I recall correctly typically gets done after sports, dinner and TV) put a bigger dent in student achievement than anything that can be explained by too-early school start times?

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    Let me restate that: Jeff, suppose education systems were rated on a scale of 0 to 100 based on the percentage of their students that reach their full potential. Further suppose that we'd discovered a way for an education system to reliably achieve a score of 100, but in a manner that (among other things) would require eliminating all of the "compromises for custody" and "co-curricular benefits" you mention above. In this hypothetical scenario, how far would you be willing to lower an educational system's score in order to retain the "compromises for custody" and "co-curricular benefits" you mention above?

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    Quote Originally Posted by DHBernstein View Post
    Let me restate that: Jeff, suppose education systems were rated on a scale of 0 to 100 based on the percentage of their students that reach their full potential. Further suppose that we'd discovered a way for an education system to reliably achieve a score of 100, but in a manner that (among other things) would require eliminating all of the "compromises for custody" and "co-curricular benefits" you mention above. In this hypothetical scenario, how far would you be willing to lower an educational system's score in order to retain the "compromises for custody" and "co-curricular benefits" you mention above?
    Dave, I'm curious, why the need to restate with the addition of "Jeff,"?

    Elsewhere, you've opined that education could yield results 100x (10,000%) that of what we see today. So, on your scale above, we're currently at a 1. Setting aside that I'm not convinced that such gains are to be had, and setting aside the uncertainty around whether we know of an education system that would gain us even a factor of 10, I'll play along. I'd be ecstatic to realize the factor of 10 gain, so I guess by the parameters of your question, I'd be willing to "sacrifice" 90 of the 100 points toward custody et.al.

    Okay, so I get that's not really what you're asking, or, at least, not really an answer. Let me tackle this by answering a slightly different question (and if this question is too far removed from where you started, please don't hesitate to let me know): what fraction of an education do different elements of that education represent?

    Perhaps too simplistically, we might think of an education as being the acquisition of facts (c-a-t spells "cat," 1 + 1 = 2, Oxygen and Hydrogen can combine to form water, ...) and skills (reading, writing, calculating, problem solving, communicating, working as a member of a group, being healthy, ...) in a positive school climate conducive to said acquisition (schools, not prisons!) and operating within financial realities ($/student, $/family, $/school, $/town, ...). As an outcome, we'd like our students to be prepared to fit into "adult" society (family, friends, strangers, workplaces, ...) in a positive way.

    Roughly speaking, I'd probably allocate somewhere between 2/3 to 3/4 of available resources to the academic front, with another 1/10 to 1/6 on athletics, arts, and activities, and with the remainder going to "behind the scenes" needs such as administration and facilities. As for the issue of class size and custody, the combination of the two turn an education that would only be available to the most affluent into an experience in which almost all can participate. In order of magnitude terms, I'd prefer to offer an educational value of 75 on your 1-100 scale to 95 students than an educational value of 95 to a mere 10 students.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Let me tackle this by answering a slightly different question (and if this question is too far removed from where you started, please don't hesitate to let me know): what fraction of an education do different elements of that education represent?

    Perhaps too simplistically, we might think of an education as being the acquisition of facts (c-a-t spells "cat," 1 + 1 = 2, Oxygen and Hydrogen can combine to form water, ...) and skills (reading, writing, calculating, problem solving, communicating, working as a member of a group, being healthy, ...) in a positive school climate conducive to said acquisition (schools, not prisons!) and operating within financial realities ($/student, $/family, $/school, $/town, ...). As an outcome, we'd like our students to be prepared to fit into "adult" society (family, friends, strangers, workplaces, ...) in a positive way.

    Roughly speaking, I'd probably allocate somewhere between 2/3 to 3/4 of available resources to the academic front, with another 1/10 to 1/6 on athletics, arts, and activities, and with the remainder going to "behind the scenes" needs such as administration and facilities. As for the issue of class size and custody, the combination of the two turn an education that would only be available to the most affluent into an experience in which almost all can participate. In order of magnitude terms, I'd prefer to offer an educational value of 75 on your 1-100 scale to 95 students than an educational value of 95 to a mere 10 students.
    Jeff, I get what you're trying to do here, but I would like to add into the argument the idea that these various components are not additive. That is, a great academic experience that lacks co-curriculars, might yield a 100 on the 1-100 scale, but it might generate a resulting human that is only 50% of their potential, even if the academics are 67-75% of the fraction of the whole experience.

    I think the impact of the components is more multiplicative, and that completely lacking in some areas might result in a human that is far less than full potential. For an extreme example, an academic genius who completely lacks social skills might end up as a Unibomber rather than a Steve Jobs. To get the best out of people, you need to develop their whole self.

    If music experience makes you a better mathematician, if drama makes you a better writer, if sports make you a better leader or a better "team player", then these pieces are not just "extra".

    Various people have made this argument along the way, but I thought this was a good point to be specific about it. Co-curriculars are not the extra you add on if there's time and budget. They are part of the experience for a good reason.

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    Kim, well put. That's why I use the term "co-curricular" instead of "extra-curricular." Thanks for making the point explicit.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Dave, I'm curious, why the need to restate with the addition of "Jeff,"?
    Because I was specifically seeking a response from you, and was not interested in debating the parameters of the scenario I'd concocted to understand your view of the tradeoff.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Elsewhere, you've opined that education could yield results 100x (10,000%) that of what we see today. So, on your scale above, we're currently at a 1. Setting aside that I'm not convinced that such gains are to be had, and setting aside the uncertainty around whether we know of an education system that would gain us even a factor of 10, I'll play along. I'd be ecstatic to realize the factor of 10 gain, so I guess by the parameters of your question, I'd be willing to "sacrifice" 90 of the 100 points toward custody et.al.

    Okay, so I get that's not really what you're asking, or, at least, not really an answer.
    Actually, your response is exactly what I was seeking. I wanted to understand how much of "optimize for education" you'd be willing to sacrifice to preserve day care etc.

    The "penalty" for requiring a student to start before being fully awake is likely quite severe. My guess is that 90% wouldn't buy much in terms of a start time earlier than 11 am, but we'd need a well-run experiment to know for sure.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Let me tackle this by answering a slightly different question (and if this question is too far removed from where you started, please don't hesitate to let me know): what fraction of an education do different elements of that education represent?

    Perhaps too simplistically, we might think of an education as being the acquisition of facts (c-a-t spells "cat," 1 + 1 = 2, Oxygen and Hydrogen can combine to form water, ...) and skills (reading, writing, calculating, problem solving, communicating, working as a member of a group, being healthy, ...) in a positive school climate conducive to said acquisition (schools, not prisons!) and operating within financial realities ($/student, $/family, $/school, $/town, ...). As an outcome, we'd like our students to be prepared to fit into "adult" society (family, friends, strangers, workplaces, ...) in a positive way.

    Roughly speaking, I'd probably allocate somewhere between 2/3 to 3/4 of available resources to the academic front, with another 1/10 to 1/6 on athletics, arts, and activities, and with the remainder going to "behind the scenes" needs such as administration and facilities. As for the issue of class size and custody, the combination of the two turn an education that would only be available to the most affluent into an experience in which almost all can participate. In order of magnitude terms, I'd prefer to offer an educational value of 75 on your 1-100 scale to 95 students than an educational value of 95 to a mere 10 students.
    I consider the arts and athletics to be essential skills that should be acquired during the educational process. The latter are particularly important given the finding that we learn best while in motion.

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    My "sacrifice 90%" answer was entirely tongue-in-cheek, FYI.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    My "sacrifice 90%" answer was entirely tongue-in-cheek, FYI.
    Oh, your response was not intended to be a factual statement. I assumed this to be a serious discussion, and that you'd meant that you would sacrifice to 90% of the optimal value.

    I won't make that mistake again; hopefully other readers here will learn from my error.

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    Serious discussions don't preclude a bit of whimsy. I assumed the non-sensical math of 0-100 and 1 and 10 made that whimsy obvious. I won't make that mistake again; hopefully I will learn from my error and next time insert my "trademark" [grin].

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    Serious discussions don't preclude a bit of whimsy. I assumed the non-sensical math of 0-100 and 1 and 10 made that whimsy obvious. I won't make that mistake again; hopefully I will learn from my error and next time insert my "trademark" [grin].
    As some now do with Senator Kyl, I'll simply ask beforehand whether or not you're being serious.

    The continuing absence of a serious response to my question is noted.

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    If you'll re-read the last three paragraphs of my Post 6, you'll see that I *did* address your question seriously (if not fully).

    The question of how much of an educational value to sacrifice for the purpose of practicality (e.g., custody) is a challenging one because it can't be answered in a vacuum. The ideal answer is of course zero, all else being equal. But all else isn't equal.

    Option 1: Let's imagine, for instance, that an optimal class size is 10 to allow for the best balance of individual attention and group interaction. Unfortunately, to realize that class size, the cost is $30k per pupil per year (PPE). In a system of 2,400 students, that's $75M. Spread over a community of 5,000 households, that's $15k per year. For most (75%?), that would be unaffordable. So, we get 100 points of education multiplied by 600 student to yield 60k EPs (Education Points).

    Option 2: Now, let's increase class size to 20 and drop the PPE to $7,500. Now, all of the students can attend. But in the process of increasing class size, let's say that we only get 70 EPs (the research does not suggest such a drop, but this is all hypothetical). The result is 70 EPs/student x 2,400 students = 168 EPs. Wow, that compromise resulted in a *better* educational outcome! (Of course, the students who couldn't afford Option 1 *might* be able to participate in Option 2 somewhere, but perhaps the somewhere doesn't even deliver 70 points because there's not enough funding left over from Option 1).

    We might see a similar effect with custody. If we started school at 11am as you propose (although it's not clear when co-curricular activities would take place), we'd see an educational improvement, but one that all current students couldn't afford (due to added "day care" cost born by the family), and that some students could afford but at an opportunity cost.

    As I've suggested, though, perhaps we get most of the educational benefit from a 9am start time. Such a start might allow us to preserve the benefits of co-curricular programs within the current custodial model. So, it's not even clear to me that I'd have to sacrifice much at all to see the gain.

    The problem that I struggle with in answering the question is that there are too many variables. To be sure, I'd sacrifice some educational quality to the gods of practicality. (This is no different than the many sacrifices we make in quality of life out of considerations for what's practical.) But it may be that there's a practical "good enough" education worth striving for while a gold standard $250k/year offering sits on the shelf.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    If you'll re-read the last three paragraphs of my Post 6, you'll see that I *did* address your question seriously (if not fully).

    The question of how much of an educational value to sacrifice for the purpose of practicality (e.g., custody) is a challenging one because it can't be answered in a vacuum. The ideal answer is of course zero, all else being equal. But all else isn't equal.

    Option 1: Let's imagine, for instance, that an optimal class size is 10 to allow for the best balance of individual attention and group interaction. Unfortunately, to realize that class size, the cost is $30k per pupil per year (PPE). In a system of 2,400 students, that's $75M. Spread over a community of 5,000 households, that's $15k per year. For most (75%?), that would be unaffordable. So, we get 100 points of education multiplied by 600 student to yield 60k EPs (Education Points).

    Option 2: Now, let's increase class size to 20 and drop the PPE to $7,500. Now, all of the students can attend. But in the process of increasing class size, let's say that we only get 70 EPs (the research does not suggest such a drop, but this is all hypothetical). The result is 70 EPs/student x 2,400 students = 168 EPs. Wow, that compromise resulted in a *better* educational outcome! (Of course, the students who couldn't afford Option 1 *might* be able to participate in Option 2 somewhere, but perhaps the somewhere doesn't even deliver 70 points because there's not enough funding left over from Option 1).
    We're discussing start time, not class size, but out of curiosity how does doubling class size cut PPE by a factor of 4?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    We might see a similar effect with custody. If we started school at 11am as you propose (although it's not clear when co-curricular activities would take place), we'd see an educational improvement, but one that all current students couldn't afford (due to added "day care" cost born by the family), and that some students could afford but at an opportunity cost.

    As I've suggested, though, perhaps we get most of the educational benefit from a 9am start time. Such a start might allow us to preserve the benefits of co-curricular programs within the current custodial model. So, it's not even clear to me that I'd have to sacrifice much at all to see the gain.
    You don't know how much educational benefit you'd be sacrificing, and you've given up on attaining the maximal benefit before getting started -- a classic self-fulfilling prophecy.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jeff Dieffenbach View Post
    The problem that I struggle with in answering the question is that there are too many variables. To be sure, I'd sacrifice some educational quality to the gods of practicality. (This is no different than the many sacrifices we make in quality of life out of considerations for what's practical.) But it may be that there's a practical "good enough" education worth striving for while a gold standard $250k/year offering sits on the shelf.
    Your analysis is limited to the traditional funding model, and neglects the massive financial benefit that would be generated by educating all students to their full potentials.

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