Let the kids sleep!

So Fully Myelinated super-reader, DJC, sent me this article about school start times yesterday.  And today, an NYT Op-Ed and Facebook reminds me that I had my own Op-Ed on school starts times exactly a year ago.  And, the good news is that there’s some serious movement– the whole state of California:

This much appears to have been recognized by California lawmakers, who’ve passed a bill that, if signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, will see many middle and high schools moving to later start times over the next few years. This is a milestone that would send a clear message to the rest of the country: Sleep deprivation is an issue with profound implications for public health.

Hooray for California!  And why this matters:

Three out of every four students in Grades 9 to 12 fail to sleep the minimum of 8 hours that the American Academy of Sleep Medicinerecommends for their age group. And sleep deprivation is unremittingly bad news. At its most basic, insufficient sleep results in reduced attention and impaired memory, hindering student progress and lowering grades. More alarmingly, sleep deprivation is likely to lead to mood and emotional problems, increasing the risk of mental illness. Chronic sleep deprivation is also a major risk factor for obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and cancer. As if this weren’t enough, it also makes falling asleep at the wheel much more likely…

Excessive screen use is compounded by a dangerous tradition: starting high school abnormally early. Based on data available from 2015, 86 percent of high schools started before 8:30 a.m., and one in 10 high schools had a start time before 7:30 a.m. Prying a teenager out of bed at 6 a.m. to get to school is the equivalent of waking an adult at 4 a.m. The brain will be at its least active in the 24-hour cycle, which explains the monosyllabic grunts of teenagers as they lumber to the school bus.

Also, my go to criminologist Mark Kleiman regularly points out this would also cut down on crime.

The Atlantic article suggests we not just shift start times, but re-think the whole schedule:

It’s not entirely clear who the school day does revolve around. The schedules that dictate most of American K-12 life descend from times when fewer households had two working parents. The result is a school day that frazzles just about everybody. But a few changes could mitigate that frazzling significantly. “I don’t know about making everyone perfectly happy,” says Catherine Brown, the vice president of education policy at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning think tank. “But I think that we could get much closer to optimizing for students, parents, teachers.” The school day, Brown says, could be improved in two main ways: It could start later, and it could go longer…

A later start, in both middle and high school, would help with the later sleep cycles that are typical in teenage years. Most teens don’t naturally fall asleep until about 11 p.m., and are supposed to get about nine hours of sleep per night. But when class starts before 8:30—as the most recent federal data indicates it does at 87 percent of American public high schools—waking up in time for school cuts into needed sleep. Postponing the start of the school day, researchers have found, does lead middle and high schoolers to get more rest—they don’t just stay up later. And then, once better-rested, studies show that teens do better in schoolget in fewer car crashes, and are less prone to depression.

Half past eight—the target for many start-school-later advocates—is actually still earlier than would be totally ideal. Kyla Wahlstrom, a lecturer at the University of Minnesota who conducted the first study examining the effects of later start times on high schoolers back in the late 1990s, told me that, taking only teens’ sleep needs into account, the best start time would be around 9:00 or 9:30; that would give them the optimal amount of time to sleep and get ready. “8:30,” she says, “is a compromise that allows more sleep, but does not impinge on the after-school activities.”

As for the later day, that’s to help with the reality of two working parents and single working parents:

I asked Brown what her ideal school-day schedule would look like, if she could start from scratch. She told me it’d start later, at 8 or 8:30—not just for teens, but also for younger kids. The day would end at 5 or 5:30, but the extended day’s extra hours wouldn’t be spent solely in the classroom. Brown says she’d “have a period in the afternoon where they’re doing creative activities and they’re doing physical activities, sports, arts, music—I would bake all that stuff into the day, as opposed to the after-school being plopped on, disconnected from the rest of the learning goals of the school.” (In Brown’s hypothetical ideal school day, teachers wouldn’t be asked to work longer days, but would instead work in shifts.)

Today’s standard 6.5-hour school day looks quite different. “I’m not pretending this is a utopia,” Brown says. “I’m just repeatedly struck, as a mother and as an education policy wonk, [by] how schools don’t often consider the needs of parents’ work schedules when they’re designing all kinds of policies.”

Early start and end times have remained the norm in part because inertia is powerful—it’s “a problem in the sense that this is how we’ve always done it, so this is the way we’ll keep doing it,” Brown says. And the obstacles to changing it usually fall under three general categories: sports, buses, and funding.

Personally, I’d settle for starting with a later start.  Especially because the evidence is so damn compelling.  My poor son, Alex, who started HS this year is grumpy getting up that early.  Alas, the status quo bias on this one is so strong.  Wake County NC is a pretty progressive place, but no progress whatsoever here.  My guess is they school board feels they’ve got enough to do just to keep up with growth (and angering lots of parents in the process) that they don’t want to try and take this on, too.  Even though they know.  Maybe the California results will be compelling enough that other states can’t help but follow.

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