Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Why Arne Duncan Wants High School Students To Start School Later In The Day

What time should high school students be getting on the bus in the morning?

State Archives of North Carolina / Flickr

What time should high school students be getting on the bus in the morning?

What follows, as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan joked on The Diane Rehm Show, is “one my more effective tweets”:

Common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later

Duncan’s talking about high school students in particular. Their school days can start at or before 7 o’clock in the morning, even though teenagers are are biologically indisposed to hitting the sack before 11:00 p.m., making it tough to get in the full night’s sleep they need.

The logistics are tough for school administrators to work out, as Megan Erbacher writes in the Evansville Courier & Press, but there is research to back up the notion that shifting a high school’s start time back 60 or 90 minutes can make a measurable difference in students’ health and academic performance.

In his tweet, Duncan shared this Washington Post op-ed:

When it comes to the potential negative outcomes sleep deficits can cause in that age group, the research is persuasive: Chronic sleep loss can mean academic underperformance and lower scores on standardized tests, and it can mean a higher risk of sports-related injuries. Bleary-eyed teenagers cannot possibly be at their best when… they are expected to rise as early as 5:45 a.m. to meet their buses every weekday.

Writing for the Courier & Press, Erbacher points to this study from the University of Minnesota. In the urban Minneapolis Public Schools, researchers found shifting the start time from 7:15 a.m. to 8:40 a.m. caused “a significant reduction in school dropout rates, less depression, and students reported earning higher grades.”

But implementing such a change isn’t easy. Erbacher writes:

Many factors play a part in the school day in what some may consider a simple time change, including extracurricular activities, money and travel time especially when local school districts are in a different time zone, just to name a few.

Evansville Vanderburgh School Corp. Superintendent David Smith said discussions around school start times have occurred, but both operational and academic perspectives are a factor. He noted many concerns, including teenagers that care for younger siblings after school — so if high school starts and ends later, who could care for those children while parents are still at work?…

While bus schedules should not determine the school day, Smith said “the reality is that the state of Indiana is decreasing significantly the funding level for bus transportation, causing districts to have to pay strict attention to the routing of buses and the pairing of bus schedules to operate as efficiently as possible.”

All right, roll call — tell us in the comments section:

  • When does your high school or high schooler wake up in the morning?
  • What time does your high school or high schooler‘s first class begin in the morning?
  • Would you support a later start time at your school?


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