School Start Times

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By Dana Schallheim
Board of Education, District 5

Let’s have an honest conversation about school start times. Whether you love our current start times or not, the subject of safe and healthy school hours is picking up steam globally and school systems across the country have made the switch. Anne Arundel County Public Schools, through the work of a new, temporary transportation consultant, will soon be looking into school start times within the context of evaluating its transportation department’s operations.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), not getting enough sleep is common among high school students and is associated with several health risks including being overweight, drinking alcohol, smoking tobacco and using drugs, as well as poor academic performance. One common reason our adolescent children do not get enough sleep is early school start times. School start times are both a health and safety issue.

Like many American school systems, AACPS starts its high schools well before the 8:30am or later time recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. There are also many late-starting elementary schools, including my daughter’s, which doesn’t start until 9:35am each morning. I feel both extremes are damaging. Not only do our current start times force our children to walk to or from school or a bus stop in the dark but our teens are also not getting the sleep their developing brains and bodies require. Our late-starting elementary schools also leave little daylight during the winter months for students to play outside after school.

For those school systems that have made the choice to implement safe, healthy and age-appropriate start times, the benefits have been undeniable. According to a recent study from Colorado, by implementing later middle and high school start times, students experienced upward of an hour in longer sleep time, fewer students reported feeling too sleepy to complete school work, there were minimal changes to extracurricular participation, and academic engagement was significantly higher for both middle and high school students.

Economics of Education Review recently published a study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, using a nationally representative sample of students, examining the effects of start times on student learning and time allocation. The results showed that later high school start times lead to higher reading test scores, greater academic achievement, and did not reduce time on after-school jobs or sports.

Another study published in EducationNext, conducted by the Naval Postgraduate School and the University of Chicago, found that adolescents’ math scores and reading scores increased when school started an hour later.

Lastly, the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement put out a study that shows a positive correlation between later school start times and better academic performance amongst high school students. Researchers analyzed data from nearly 10,000 students at eight high schools in three states and found that later school start times resulted in improved attendance, test scores and grades in math, English, science and social studies. The study also showed a decrease in tardiness, substance abuse and symptoms of depression as well as a significant drop in teen car crashes.

Recent news reports cite the hassle of reconfiguring bus schedules and fear of change as reasons some school systems haven’t adjusted school start times. Bus driver shortages and costs are also on everyone’s mind. While these are all valid concerns, the societal cost of raising another generation of sleep-deprived teens or elementary students who might have achieved more had school started at an age-appropriate hour outweighs any fear I have of fully researching and evaluating alternative start times. I believe that we can make fiscally responsible choices while improving student health, safety and academic achievement. Rest assured that as these conversations continue in the coming months, I will include the community in these discussions. I look forward to learning your perspective. You can reach me at dschallheim@aacps.org.

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