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Mercury News: A later start for high school

Published August 28, 2014 11:35 am

San Jose Mercury News
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Anyone with teenagers knows how hard it is to get them up by 6 or 7 a.m. for school. Imagine how hard it is for teachers to educate them before 8 a.m., when nearly half of California high schools start the day.

The American Academy of Pediatricians declared last week that chronic sleep deprivation is a public health issue and called on middle and high schools to push back their start times to 8:30 or later. It's an idea many parents have supported for years, and it's time to take it seriously.

Oh, the naysayers preach that rising at the crack of dawn was good enough for them. Kids today just need to suck it up.

But America is struggling to catch up on education with other nations and to close the achievement gap among races in our own. It's crazy to debate education theory and ignore physiological evidence that sleep deprivation in teenagers is rampant. Of course it affects their ability to learn.

Nearly a third of high school students say they fall asleep in school at least once a week. Nearly nine in 10 get less than the recommended 8.5 hours of sleep a night, and nearly a fifth fall asleep doing their homework. Students who are consistently sleep deprived get lower grades and more frequently skip classes or drop out.

A persuasive 2011 study by economists for the Brookings Institute's Hancock Project showed that students at schools that start high school at 9 a.m. could expect an improvement in learning that would lead to $17,500 in increased lifetime earnings. Significantly, it also found "Early school start times reduce performance among disadvantaged students by an amount equivalent to having a highly ineffective teacher."

The roadblocks to starting classes later are well-known. It would require starting elementary school days earlier because of bus schedules. But pediatricians say younger children's biological clocks are different — as every parent already knows. Elementary students can handle the early starts.

Then there's after-school sports. If school starts later, there's less daylight afterward for practice.

Really? California would sacrifice academic achievement and kids' overall health so their coaches can get two hours of practice out of them before dark? How about the vast majority of students who would benefit from having less time unsupervised before their parents get off work?

School schedules are extremely complex, and this change is a logistical nightmare. But let's start working on how to do it. If a few schools figure it out, others will follow.

Teachers are revolutionizing instruction by adopting the more rigorous and complex Common Core standards. Administrators need to work on changing the school day. Together they could dramatically improve kids' understanding of complex concepts they need to know.




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