John Sutherby and Lauren Yang
Most of the people who have done research on the topic of school start times have concluded that starting school later is better. However, there are still many preconceived notions spread among those less informed about the issue that disprove the need or possibility of later school start times. These arguments, when dug into, are merely excuses as all of them can, and have been, worked around.
Claim 1: If students go to school later, then they will stay up later and get the same amount of sleep, so starting school later does not actually help the students.
The first part of this seems to be logical. If a student has the same amount of homework and after-school activities but gets out of school later, then they will go to sleep later, giving them the same amount of sleep. However, a study conducted at the University of Minnesota by Kyla Wahlstrom demonstrated that the majority of the teens studied were able to achieve the same or similar bedtimes after their school moved back their start time, often times by cutting out unproductive time spent on social media or procrastinating. Statistically, students who go to school later sleep more. In one of the larger studies on the matter reported in the Scientific American, data from over 62,000 teenagers around the U.S. demonstrated that the later a school starts, the higher the percentage of students achieving at least eight hours of sleep per night.
Although students may not be getting more sleep in some cases, the quality of the sleep is higher. While adolescents go to sleep early and wake up early, their progression through puberty will change their circadian rhythm. Teens will become naturally inclined to stay up later and sleep in later. This shift, called Sleep Phase Delay, also creates a change in the quality of sleep teens can acquire. On a physiological level, Sleep Phase Delay occurs in the two parts of the brain called the suprachiasmatic nuclei, and as stated by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, “disruptions of the biological rhythms can impair the health and well-being of the organism.” By going to sleep later and waking up later and thereby conforming to what their circadian rhythms teens will feel more rested, be more alert, and significantly reduce their chances of depression, obesity, and suicidal tendencies.
Claim 2: Later start times would interfere with after-school activities and sports schedules and therefore prohibit schools from moving back start times.
Many people worry that moving school start times would inhibit students’ ability to work on school nights. However, the majority of student jobs do not start until late afternoon or evening. It is unlikely that many students would lose work opportunities due changes in their school’s schedules. Schools start (and end) at many different times around the U.S. and communities manage to work around the school systems. If employers were to punish students for not being able to work during school hours, the employers would lose a large amount of employees or at least potential employees.
Many students and parents also worry about how changes in school start times will affect sports. According to athletic directors, leagues such as the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association (PIAA) would have little problem working around slightly later game schedules. Moreover, many schools who have later start times do very well in sports. A high school in Wilton, Connecticut pushed back their start times by just 40 minutes and then won multiple state championships that year; Loudon County in Virginia, well known for their nationally ranked football team and girls soccer team, does not hear the starting bells ring until 9:00 a.m.. While there are other factors that lead to a school district to excel in athletics, such as the culture in the town or the emphasis placed on it by the school and community, the fact that school districts can have later start times and dominate on the field or court demonstrates that later school start times and competitive athletics can coexist. A 2011 study by Stanford University also found that athletes who sleep more perform better, and in late 2012, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a study stating that “adolescent athletes who slept eight or more hours each night were 68% less likely to be injured than athletes who regularly slept less.” By pushing back start times, sports programs are likely to see higher performance and fewer injuries out of their athletes.
Claim 3: If students go to school later, the child care services will not be able to watch them while the parents are working.
First and foremost, the schools changing their start times are primarily middle and high schools. Therefore, the students affected by this are going to be mostly 12-18 years old. Most students of these ages can take care of themselves for a short period of time and, in fact, by having the school day go later, parents will have less time to worry about child care after school. Before school, on the other hand, some parents may leave for work before their children leave for school. This, however, is also problem for many parents who have young children in elementary schools that often start after 9:00 a.m.. These parents have found many ways to deal with the problem, including private child care before school (some schools have it through the school system) or flexible work hours. Parents have been solving this issue for years for five and six year olds, so it would not be a problem for parents with students two to three times older.
Claim 4: In order to change school start times, it would cost the district a lot of money because of rerouting transportation.
From an economical perspective, while moving back school start times does cost some districts money, it has allowed others to save . The Santa Rosa County in Florida saved millions of dollars when it changed to later start times in 2006. The Wilton School District in Connecticut changed at no cost. West Des Moines School District in Iowa saved $700,000 annually by reducing the number of busses needed. Schools in Moore County in North Carolina created a dual-route system to allow lower-school students to use the same busses as upper-school students on different routes, saving the district $700,000 annually. In terms of plans that cost money, Fairfax County Public Schools changed their start times for a cost of 27 cents per student. In Ohio, every school but one that switched their start times due to sleep research and studies was able to do it without it costing anything, or in some cases, saving money. Since many schools have already changed school start times (including schools in 45 states), their plans, such as consolidating busing routes to where they are actively being used,can be refined and reused to save districts newly changing their start times money (startschoollater.net).
Claim 5: I woke up early when I was in school, and I turned out just fine.
For many generations, farmers have woken up at the crack of dawn to go out into their fields and plant, water, and harvest crops. Therefore. it does not seem that it would be all that difficult to rouse teenagers in the morning for school. This makes sense, until the major flaw is revealed. Farmers wake up early in the morning and often work until the sun goes down; students often wake up early in the morning and work until school is over. The difference is that after a student comes home from school, he or she goes to sports games, choral practices, and attempts to get through mountains of homework, whereas a farmer does not. A farmer is able to maintain this lifestyle not only because after puberty the circadian rhythm eventually reverts back to going to sleep early and waking up early, but also because he can go home at night and rest after a long day of work before going to sleep. Students now are constantly competing with each other to do more work, more activities, and more sports in an attempt to gain an advantage to get into a good college. This truth links into another problem that past generations did not have: immense societal pressure to get into a good college.
While many people argue that they also got up early in the morning when they were adolescents, not many of them got up to be at school by 7:30. In actuality, most schools in the mid-twentieth century started between 8:30 and 9:00 a.m., over an hour later than they do today. The shift between start times occured when school districts had the opportunity to save money on busing by staggering the school start times and allowing a tiered busing system pushing middle and high schools to start earlier. Even with the decrease of students taking buses as student driving becomes more common, teens are getting behind the wheel without enough sleep to properly operate the vehicle safely. To drive a vehicle with less than five hours of sleep is as dangerous as driving above the legal Blood Alcohol Content (BAC) limit. Past generations did not go through the extra challenges that students are now facing, so they do not know whether we will be “just fine.”
While there still is some validity to some of the claims, the majority of them are rooted not in fact but in thought. When fact is applied to them, they can be seen clearly as what they are–simple misconceptions. As more research is uncovered about the science behind students sleeping less and working more than ever, the simple solution becomes allowing students to sleep in. Students can then achieve more nights where they reach the AAP recommended 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep and severely reduce their chances of “obesity, migraines, and immune system disruption and…health risk behaviors including smoking, drinking, stimulant abuse, physical fighting, physical inactivity, depression, and suicidal tendencies” (Startschoollater.net). When all of the research is layed on the table, the solution seems pretty obvious: starting schools later = healthier, happier students.