Sleep and school

With a new school year underway, I feel so sorry for my friends who now have to get up absurdly early so their daughters can catch the 6:15 bus to their absurdly early 7:20am school start time for middle school (they’re not nice people; they wouldn’t feel sorry for me).  I already feel sorry for me for next year when David hits middle school and he’ll have to be there by 7:30.  I plan on driving him not because I want to, but because I’m not going to abuse his growing brain by making it wake up at an absurdly early hour to catch the bus.

What’s particularly frustrating about this is the ever-mounting evidence that we are simply harming our kids by making them get up so early.  Miller-McCune highlights the latest study:

A pilot study at a small private high school in Providence, R.I., has confirmed the well-documented benefits of a half-hour delay in the school start time for teens, an easy fix for the chronic and rampantly ignored sleepiness of adolescents.

The study shows that two months after the St. George’s School changed its start time from 8 to 8:30 a.m., students were getting 45 minutes more sleep on school nights, on average, or nearly eight hours in all. They were going to bed an average 18 minutes earlier, presumably because it felt so good. On Sundays, they spent less time sleeping to catch up…

The consequences [of not enough sleep], she said, can range from mood, attention and memory problems to obesity and low grades.

“We’re really fighting biology,” Owens added. “It’s time we started to recognize that sleep is not an optional activity. Adolescents cannot fall asleep much before 11 at night. If they have to start school at 8 a.m., they’re not going to get anywhere near the hours of sleep they need.”

This is such an easy fix.  Probably the simplest thing any school district could do to raise middle and High school test scores is to simply get rid of start times before 8 or 8:15.  That would likely do more than all sorts of investments in teachers, new programs, etc.  But then students would get out of school later, have less time for after-school jobs and extracurriculars, and parents would whine.  I wish more parents would whine that our current scheduling policies are keeping their children unhappy and from realizing their potential.  Urgh.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State http://faculty.chass.ncsu.edu/shgreene

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