(First in a weekly series of comments meant to stimulate discussion on how the school district may be able to improve performance and behavior.)

Ask almost any parent about getting their kids out of bed and you’re likely to hear moans and groans. Teens, in particular, are notorious for sleeping in. Evidence suggests that their circadian rhythm is different from that of adults and kids are more likely to want to go to bed later and wake up later.

If that is the case, one has to wonder why school schedules are set to start the day when students are least likely to be receptive to learning.

A story by U.S. News & World Report dated March 24, 2014 reported that, “Many teens start learning before daylight breaks – about 40 percent of high schools start school before 8 a.m., according to data from the 2011-2012 school year from the National Center for Education Statistics.

“Lack of adequate rest not only affects teens’ moods, but their ability to learn, listen and concentrate, experts say.”

“But starting school later is associated with better academic performance, according to a February report by the University of Minnesota. Researchers studied data from the more than 9,000 students at eight public high schools before and after the schools made a shift to start classes at 8 a.m. or later.

“Academic performance and attendance improved, and tardiness rates declined in schools with start times of 8:35 a.m. or later. The number of car crashes involving teen drivers went down, too, in a school that shifted its start time from 7:35 to 8:55 a.m. More than half of teens in the study who attended a school with a start time of 8:30 a.m. or later were able to get at least eight hours of sleep per night.”

Other studies support the notion that starting school later improves performance. So why don’t more districts start the school day later? Largely because there are administrative challenges.

Idea #1: The school district should seek out another district that has started schools later in the day and report what is working, what is not and what that district would do differently if they could start over.

If we are truly committed to putting our students first, this idea is worth exploring.


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