Finding the will to change and answering concerns about cost appear to be the biggest obstacles to changing school start times for Anne Arundel County Public Schools. However, since our community prioritizes health, safety and education for all kids, then we need to be willing to make changes necessary to correct the current school schedule.
On Thursday night, supporters of a petition by Start School Later asking AACPS to
shift school start times so that no child has to be on a school bus before 7
a.m. and no school starts before 8 a.m., turned out at the public hearing to
talk about their experiences both personal and professional.
Dr. Judith Owens, Director of Sleep Medicine at Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., and nationally known pediatric sleep researcher, testified:
“Chronic sleep loss in teens is now at an all-time high, with many adolescents getting less than 7 hours of sleep per night. Insufficient sleep is linked not only to poor academic performance and lower standardized test scores, but to increased rates of depression and suicidal thoughts and of alcohol and substance abuse, accidental injuries (including sports injuries and fatal car crashes), increased rates of obesity and diabetes, and increased long-term risk of cardiovascular disease including high blood pressure and strokes.
Research has shown definitively that changes in the biology of sleep and circadian rhythms associated with puberty dictate that the majority of teen-agers are simply unable to fall asleep much before 11pm. The average teen requires 9-9 1/4 hours of sleep; thus a wake time of around 8am provides the opportunity for sufficient sleep. Scientific evidence strongly implicates earlier school start times (i.e., before 8:30 am) as a key modifiable contributor to insufficient sleep in teens.”
Alice Cain, Vice President for Policy at Teach Plus, a national nonprofit that works in partnership with teachers in high-poverty schools to improve outcomes for students and close the achievement gap:
“Based on the evidence from districts in other states that have successfully pushed back start times to after 8am, I see this change as a very promising investment – and an important piece of the larger puzzle on gap-closing. Brookings Institution economists recently showed that early school start times reduce performance among disadvantaged students by an amount equivalent to having a highly ineffective teacher. In other words, earlier start times are associated with lower academic performance. They estimated that later middle and high school start times would increase academic achievement by 0.175 standard deviations, with a corresponding increase in student lifetime earnings and a benefit-to-cost ratio of at least 9-to-1. I’m sure you hear a lot of ideas here that warrant serious consideration and I can’t help but wonder how many of them have a 9-1 benefit-to cost ratio.”
Current AACPS school schedules were designed decades ago to save money on transportation by staggering openings, not for educational benefit. Our community has become accustomed to scheduling work, childcare and activities around the school day. The high school day runs from 7:17 to 2:05 (6 hours 48 min). Simply shifting high school to 8:00 would mean ending at 2:48. Sports, after-school jobs and activities would begin then, at a time that actually works better for many coaches who need to leave their other jobs early to begin practice. Perhaps having the elementary schools begin first, but not before sunrise, would mesh better with the wake-up times of younger children and actually help parents with childcare needs. In other districts that are further ahead of ours in this conversation, transportation studies have been done and low-cost and no-cost solutions have been proposed (Fairfax Co. VA). Scheduling concerns can be worked out with some creative thinking and compromise.
We need to urge AACPS to take a serious look at this, consider the information currently available from other school districts, access the most capable transportation planning tools available, and recognize the increasing awareness in the community about the importance of sleep in health and learning.