Later High School Start Times

Do letters to newspaper columns count as literature? I don't know, but here's one I'm sending to the Washington Post.

At issue is the question of whether Fairfax County, one of the largest school districts in the United States and serving one of the richest per capita constituencies, will shift high school start times to almost 9 am.

Recently one of the 15% of parents who prefer the current schedule over the proposed later schedule wrote up her view that "Early Bedtimes Work, Too, for Sleep-Deprived Teens." She cited studies claiming later high school start times lead to no statistically significant improvement in academic performance, bright computer screens that make it harder for students to fall asleep (a non sequitur in my opinion), and that a schedule change alone will not solve the problem of tired teenagers ("High school students need 2.25 more hours of sleep than they get now. The new schedule would make up about half that deficit.")

She sees the glass only getting filled halfway and declines to consider that a benefit. I disagreed. We'll see if my view gets published in the Post.


I'm glad you published Patricia Velkoff's letter about the other side of later start times. But I notice she didn't mention any of the studies that show a substantial and tangible benefit to starting later.

I myself analyzed data on the impact of later start times on incidence of teenage car accidents. In the fall of 1998, Fayette County, Kentucky, changed the high school start time from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. In the year following this change, students averaged up to 50 minutes more sleep per weekday night. The additional sleep appears to correlate to fewer auto crashes involving teenagers, a >20% reduction if one controls for the trend seen in surrounding school districts that did not change high school start times. [Original research presented at the Associated Professional Sleep Societies' Annual Meeting in June 2002].

But I don't care about later start times because of a 20% reduction in teenage car accidents. I care about later start times because of the potential to help individual at-risk teenagers.

My daughter was an extreme example of the teenager who is helped by later start times. She always tested at the 99.9% level on standardized tests. Yet she was failing in her high school. We comforted ourselves that she could always take an extra year to graduate or, failing that, obtain a GED.

Happily, we were able to shift her to a school that started at 9 am. Her grades turned around, and she got a perfect score on the English SOL. This wasn't some elite school. It was Fairfax County's own Landmark Career Academy. After graduation, my daughter was able to qualify for a scholarship of more than $12,000 per year directly because of her improved grades (and her SAT scores).

I have two younger children who have yet to enter high school. Their teenage years will no doubt be tempestuous no matter what time high school starts. But I would be happier if they can be made 20% less tempestuous...

M. Stout Annandale, VA

1 comment:

berlinwritergirl said...

I think later times are benificial and my kids are still in elemetary. The good thing our school does, is starts at two times. The 8 oclocks go to 2:30 and the 9 oclocks go to 3:30. It gives teachers a core time with less students and parents who work the opportunity to drop kids off earlier. I pick the later time because my one daughter can not get up before 8:30 no matter how much I coax or how early she goes to bed. As for my child that gets up at the crack of dawn. She still does the later schedule and gets her chores and piano all done before school.

Hope your article is well recieved.