Introduction: The Timing of Education

physician symbolIn the early 1990s, researchers from Brown University (1) and the University of São Paulo (1.5found initial evidence that circadian biology drives the delayed sleep-wake patterns of adolescents. (1, 1.5Subsequent studies have confirmed puberty’s onset marks the beginning of a “phase shift,” with adolescents going to bed later and rising later than younger children. (2, 2.5, 3, 4Typically adolescents are unable to fall asleep at earlier times and sleep in later to get the 9 or more hours (2, 5) of sleep they need. (3, 6, 7, 8, 9

On April 4, 1994, physicians began advising school leaders to “eliminate early starting hours for teenagers.” (10) Sleep experts urge a delay in morning classes until 8:30 a.m., or later, for middle (2, 13) and high school students. (2, 11, 12, 14, 15) Most administrators instead adhere to school schedules described by preeminent scientists as “toxic,” (15.5) abusive,” (16) nonsense,” (17) deleterious,” (18) cruel,” (19) and “nuts.” (20)

classroomMore than 85 percent of public junior and senior high schools in the United States begin morning classes before 8:30 a.m., (20.5) with nearly 43 percent starting during the 7 o’clock hour, (20.5) while melatonin still pressures adolescents to sleep. (2, 3, 12, 21, 22, 24The vast majority of teenagers attending early starting schools meet the morning bell in a sleep-deprived state. (2, 6, 8, 12, 23, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39“The consequences of this sleep deprivation are severe, impacting adolescents’ physical and mental health, as well as daytime functioning.” (40)

Students at later starting schools get more sleep, (4, 13, 30, 37, 41, 42, 43) perform better academically, (13, 24, 37, 44, 45) have significantly fewer automobile accidents, (31, 46report greater motivation (41) and less depression,next exit -- profit (3, 37, 41, 47) experience fewer physical health difficulties, (37, 41) are less likely to be tardy or truant, (2, 30, 41, 44, 47, 48) demonstrate “better performance in attention level, impulsivity, and rate of performance[,]” (13and, according to Brookings Institute economists, will measurably improve fiscal prospects for themselves (with effects for disadvantaged students roughly twice as large), and for their communities, when school begins at “roughly” 9 a.m. (49

Policymakers may eventually decide when the school day begins. (50, 51) Until then, at least during the school year, adolescent sleep sufficiency, a point of concern for the CDC (18, 26, 52, 53, 54) and the National Institutes of Health, (55, 56, 57) will substantially be determined by the whims of local school boards. (58

school bus fleet in darkness -- valleyvoice

To the extent it may be said that there is a “debate” concerning school start times, science favors only one side of the argument. (1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 2426, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33, 34, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, 44, 454647, 48, 49, 52, 53, 55, 56, 57The other side is governed by unawareness (59) and adult convenience, (60, 61) busing, athletics, (12) and politics, (58) rather than education or the needs of children. (62, 63, 64, 65)

school bus in dark -- schoolbusdriver.org

Difficult as changing the status quo may be, recent evidence suggests the oft considered “solution” — switching elementary and secondary school schedules (66) — “may simply be shifting the problem from adolescents to younger children, instead of eliminating it altogether.” (67see, § IV, infra.)

high school lockers

Full citations available in the Endnotes & Appendices (html), or at pages 88-135 (Endnotes) and 136-263 (Appendices) of the site contents paper (pdf).

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