We've heard all sorts of myths about the high costs of returning to reasonable high school start times: money for more buses, loss of time for sports or homework, conflicts with daycare hours and after-school jobs, etc. But what about the real cost we're all paying right now under the current schedule?
There's already a huge body of evidence showing that early school start times come at huge costs to our children's safety (e.g., increased car crashes), learning (e.g., missed school days, missed classes due to tardiness or sleepiness, decreased performance, increased drop-out rates), emotional health (increased depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and suicidal behavior), physical health (days sick, increased risk for diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and sports injuries).
Parents of many high school students take on the cost of providing transportation for their kids as they realize the toll of early bus pickups and try to cram in an extra half hour of sleep. This cost goes beyond individual families. More cars on the roads mean increased gas consumption and auto maintenance, more accidents, and more environmental destruction.
The current schedule of staggered start times for elementary, middle, and high schools may result in lost income for many families, lost productivity for businesses, and lost tax revenue for our community. If one child leaves for school at 6:30 am and is home at 2:30 and another doesn't leave until 9 a.m., the work window is effectively reduced to about 5 hours.
Society pays a high price for each high school drop-out as well as the price of long-term health consequences from sleep loss. Last, but not least, early start times for high school students likely add real and direct costs to the school system’s annual budget for:
- Remediation and summer school,
- Discipline, including suspensions and
- Social services to treat depression and
school anxiety, and
- Interventions to address the achievement gap
Returning to healthier school hours is cost-effective: Brookings Institute economists put a number to it: $9 or more of benefit for every $1 spent to change to the most expensive approach to busing (single tier busing). This was based on increased lifetime earnings for students with later middle and high school start times! These figures don't even consider the costs we're paying right now.
The Brookings report also concludes that “early school start times reduce performance among disadvantaged students by an amount equivalent to having a highly ineffective teacher. Starting school even an hour later can boost performance at low cost". This change makes better use of our education dollars.
Every student should go to school at a safe and healthy hour. We can no longer argue that it “costs too much” to make this change. Many speculative costs have been raised and almost all have been proven false; and the costs of keeping our current hours are real.
Next post…. Solutions offered by other systems have provided no-cost and low-cost options to move towards healthy school hours for all students.