Sample Advocacy Letter (Overview)

October 3, 2011 § Leave a comment

In many instances, the initiative to adjust start times may be undertaken by legislators, or by community constituents such as physicians, antique-typewriterparents, PTA’s, voters’ groups, by the students themselves, or by you, rather than by school leaders (discussed in § IV, supra). While advocacy may take many forms, should writing be required, the sample letter below (here in docx) may serve as a basic template and may be modified as needed. Alternate sample letters are available here (outline format) and here (academic achievement, health/welfare). The difficulty, of course, is that each of these 13-14 page letters is about 13-14 pages longer than any school administrator is likely to ever read. Edit away.

 

Your Name
Street Address
City, State/Zip
Phone, fax, and/or email

Today’s date

Addressee
Street Address
City, State/Zip

Dear Superintendent Last Name and Members of the School Board,

I am the parent/guardian of a student presently attending School Name. I am writing to request that the School District implement healthy start times for middle and/or high school students. To safeguard the welfare and intellectual potential of these children, sleep experts recommend a delay in morning classes until 8:30 a.m., or later. (Start time recommendations available infra; see also, Vedaa, Saxvig, Wilhelmsen-Langeland, Bjorvatn, & Pallesen, School start time, sleepiness and functioning in Norwegian adolescents (Feb. 2012) Scandinavian J. Educational Research, pp. 55-67 [10th graders get 66 minutes more sleep and performance on attention/vigilance tasks improves with one hour start time delay to 9:30 a.m.].) First period at High School commences time period before the earliest start time recommended by any expert. (See, e.g., O’Malley & O’Malley, School Start Time and Its Impact on Learning and Behavior, publish. in, Sleep and Psychiatric Disorders in Children and Adolescents (Ivanenko edit., Informa Healthcare 2008) pp. 83, 84, 89.) Middle School begins time period too early. (See, e.g., Lufi, Tzischinsky, & Hadar, Delaying School Starting Time by One Hour: Some Effects on Attention Levels in Adolescents (Apr. 2011) 7 J. Clinical Sleep Med. 2, pp. 137-143.)

“[O]n school days adolescents are obtaining less sleep then they are thought to need, and the factor with the biggest impact is school start times. If sleep loss is associated with impaired learning and health, then these data point to computer use, social activities and especially school start times as the most obvious intervention points.” (Knutson & Lauderdale, Sociodemographic and behavioral predictors of bed time and wake time among U.S. adolescents aged 15–17 years (Mar. 2009) 154 J. Pediatrics 3, p. 426.) “School schedules are forcing them to lose sleep and to perform academically when they are at their worst.” (Hansen, Janssen, Schiff, Zee, & Dubocovich, The Impact of School Daily Schedule on Adolescent Sleep (Jun. 2005) 115 Pediatrics 6, p. 1560, italics added.) “The earliest school start times are associated with annual reductions in student performance of roughly 0.1 standard deviations for disadvantaged students, equivalent to replacing an average teacher with a teacher at the sixteenth percentile in terms of effectiveness.” (Jacob & Rockoff, Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments (Sept. 2011) Hamilton Project, Brookings Inst. p. 7.)

Although the evidence in support of delaying start times as benefiting the health, welfare, and academic performance of adolescents is overwhelming and uncontroverted (Troxel, The high cost of sleepy teens (May 23, 2012) Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Hagenauer, Perryman, Lee, & Carskadon, Adolescent Changes in the Homeostatic and Circadian Regulation of Sleep (2009) 31 Developmental Neuroscience 4, p. 282), school schedules are often determined by politics, budgets, and athletics, rather than the best interests of students. (See Wolfson & Carskadon, A Survey of Factors Influencing High School Start Times (Mar. 2005) 89 Nat. Assn. Secondary School Principals Bull. 642, pp. 47-66; Wahlstrom, The Prickly Politics of School Starting Times (Jan. 1999) 80 Phi Delta Kappan 5, pp. 344-347.) There is no sound reason, however, why any of these concerns should prevail over the well-being of children.

First, any adverse political fallout stemming from a shift to later start times should be diminished by the burgeoning evidence supporting the change. (See Wahlstrom, School Start Times and Sleepy Teens (Jul. 2010) 164 Archives Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 7, pp. 676-677.) Second, a study published in March of 2011 establishes that careful planning permits later start times to co-exist with athletics and extracurricular activities. (Kirby, Maggi, & D’Angiulli, School Start Times and the Sleep-Wake Cycle of Adolescents: A Review and Critical Evaluation of Available Evidence (Mar. 2011) 40 Educational Researcher 2, pp. 56-61.) Third, recent studies anticipate financial gains for schools (and students) when morning classes are delayed, a significant fact in times of economic hardship. (EdwardsDo Schools Begin Too Early? (Summer 2012) 12 Education Next 3; Jacob & Rockoff, Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments, supra, pp. 5-11; Carrell, Maghakian, & West, A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Performance of Adolescents (Aug. 2011) 3 Am. Economic J.: Economic Policy 3, pp. 62-81.) Fourth, finding ways to adjust start times is the “job of talented, smart school administrators.” (Taboh, American Teenagers Dangerously Sleep Deprived: Tired teens physically, mentally, emotionally compromised (Sept. 9, 2010) Voice Am. News; see also, Riddile, Time Shift: Is your school jet-lagged? (Mar. 14, 2011) Nat. Assn. Secondary School Principals, The Principal Difference.)

Consistent with previous studies, the 2011 National Sleep Foundation poll found only 14% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 report getting the recommended number of hours of sleep (9 or more) on school nights. (2011 Sleep in America Poll: Communications Technology in the Bedroom (Mar. 2011) Nat. Sleep Foundation, p. 40; see also, 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data User’s Guide (Jun. 2012) Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, pp. 74, 86; Teens and Sleep Poll a Wake-Up Call, Pediatric Sleep Experts Say (Mar. 2006) Brown Univ.) “Sleep deprivation among adolescents appears to be, in some respects, the norm rather than the exception in contemporary society.” (Roberts, Roberts, & Duong, Sleepless in adolescence: Prospective data on sleep deprivation, health and functioning (2009) 32 J. Adolescence, p. 1055.) “The consequences of this sleep deprivation are severe, impacting adolescents’ physical and mental health, as well as daytime functioning.” (Lund, Reider, Whiting, & Prichard, Sleep Patterns and Predictors of Disturbed Sleep in a Large Population of College Students (Feb. 2010) 46 J. Adolescent Health 2, p. 125.)

In 2010, CDC scientists reported, “Delaying school start times is a demonstrated strategy to promote sufficient sleep among adolescents.” (Eaton, McKnight-Eily, Lowry, Croft, Presley-Cantrell, & Perry, Prevalence of Insufficient, Borderline, and Optimal Hours of Sleep Among High School Students – United States, 2007 (2010) 46 J. Adolescent Health, p. 401.) Dr. Philip Fuller, Medical Director of the Mary Washington Hospital Sleep and Wake Disorders Center, explains: “Inherently, the majority of kids with a later start will get more sleep, which is beneficial to grades as well as being safer.” (Sklarew, Getting A’s with More Z’s: The fight for later school starts has backing from doctors and statistics (Nov. 2011) N. Va. Magazine.) “Students at later starting middle and high schools obtain more sleep due to later wake times and, in turn, function more effectively in school.” (Wolfson, Spaulding, Dandrow, & Baroni, Middle School Start Times: The Importance of a Good Night’s Sleep for Young Adolescents (Aug. 15, 2007) 5 Behavioral Sleep Medicine 3, p. 205.) “By recognizing the shift in biological rhythms during adolescence and delaying school start times accordingly, classroom experience can be matched to the times when adolescents are most alert and attentive.” (CochFischer, & Dawson, Human Behavior, Learning, and the Developing Brain: Typical Development (Informa Healthcare 2010) pp. 382-383.)

Economists from the University of California and the United States Air Force Academy note that since later start times have a “causal effect” upon improved academic performance in adolescents, delaying morning classes may save schools money. “A later start time of 50 minutes in our sample has the equivalent benefit as raising teacher quality by roughly one standard deviation. Hence, later start times may be a cost-effective way to improve student outcomes for adolescents.” (Carrell, Maghakian, & West, A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Performance of Adolescentssupra, 3 Am. Economic J.: Economic Policy 3, p. 80.) The benefit is greatest for the bottom half of the distribution, suggesting that delaying start times may be particularly important for schools attempting to reach minimum competency requirements. (Edwards, Early to Rise? The Effect of Daily Start Times on Academic Performance (Dec. 2012) 31 Economics of Education Rev. 6, p. 978.) Brookings Institute economists “conservatively” estimate that shifting middle and high school start times “from roughly 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.” would increase student achievement by 0.175 standard deviations on average, with effects for disadvantaged students roughly twice as large as advantaged students. (Jacob & RockoffOrganizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments, supra, Brookings Inst., pp. 10, 21, n. 7.) The economists estimate a corresponding increase in individual student future earnings of approximately $17,500, at little or no cost to schools; i.e., a 9 to 1 benefits to costs ratio when utilizing single-tier busing, the most expensive transportation method available. (Id., pp. 5-11.)

In addition, studies have shown young people between 16 and 29 years of age are “the most likely to be involved in crashes caused by the driver falling asleep.” (Millman, edit., Excessive Sleepiness in Adolescents and Young Adults: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment Strategies (Jun. 2005) 115 Pediatrics 6, p. 1779.) Consistent with a previous study finding 7 a.m. to 8 a.m. to be the most treacherous travel time for young drivers (Pack, Pack, Rodgman, Cucchiara, Dinges, & Schwab, Characteristics of Crashes Attributed to the Driver Having Fallen Asleep (Dec. 1995) 27 Accident Analysis & Prevention 6, pp. 769-775), a five year study by the Ohio Department of Transportation released in August of 2011 showed that 7 a.m. is “the most dangerous time for teens driving to school.” (Crashes Involving Teens Triple During Back-to-School (Aug. 23, 2011) Ohio Department of Transportation.) Given that the sleep-inducing hormone, melatonin, pressures adolescents to sleep until approximately 8 a.m., these outcomes should not be surprising. (Later Start Times for High School Students (Jun. 2002) Univ. Minn.)

A study published in April 2011 associates early start times in Virginia Beach (7:25 a.m., except one school at 7:20 a.m.) with 41% higher crash rates among teen drivers than in adjacent Chesapeake where classes started at 8:40 a.m. or 8:45 a.m. (Vorona, Szklo-Coxe, Wu, Dubik, Zhao, & Ware, Dissimilar Teen Crash Rates in Two Neighboring Southeastern Virginia Cities with Different High School Start Times (Apr. 2011) 7 J. Clinical Sleep Med. 2, pp. 145-151.) In 1999, school districts in Lexington, Kentucky delayed start times for high school students county-wide by one hour to 8:30 a.m. Average crash rates for teen drivers in the county in the 2 years after the change in school start time dropped 16.5%, compared with the 2 years prior to the change, whereas teen crash rates for the rest of the state increased 7.8% over the same time period. (Danner & Phillips, Adolescent Sleep, School Start Times, and Teen Motor Vehicle Crashes (Dec. 2008) 4 J. Clinical Sleep Med. 6, pp. 533–535; see also, Storr, Sleepy teen pedestrians more likely to get hit, UAB study says (May 7, 2012) Univ. Al. Birmingham News.) In reviewing the study, John Cline, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the Yale School of Medicine, commented, “Given the danger posed to young people from car accidents this is a strong reason in itself to change school start times.” (Cline, Do Later School Start Times Really Help High School Students? (Feb. 27, 2011) Psychology Today.) Automobile accidents represent the leading cause of death among teenagers, accounting for approximately 40% of teen fatalities annually and billions of dollars in attendant costs. (CDC, Injury Prevention & Control: Motor Vehicle Safety, Teen Drivers: Fact Sheet.)

A CDC study published in August 2011 found an association between health-risk behaviors and diminished weeknight sleep in adolescents, corroborating findings from previous studies. (McKnight-Eily, Eaton, Lowry, Croft, Presley-Cantrell, & Perry, Relationships between hours of sleep and health-risk behaviors in US adolescent students (Aug. 5, 2011) Preventive Medicine, 1-3; Pasch, Laska, Lytle, & Moe, Adolescent Sleep, Risk Behaviors, and Depressive Symptoms: Are They Linked? (Mar. 2010) 34 Am. J. Health Behavior 2, pp. 237-248; O’Brien & MindellSleep and Risk-Taking Behavior in Adolescents (2005) 3 Behavioral Sleep Medicine 3, pp. 113-133.) A July 2011 study by University of Nebraska at Omaha criminologists found “preliminary evidence that sleep-deprived adolescents participate in a greater volume of both violent and property crime…. Further, our results indicate that every little bit of sleep may make a difference. That is, sleeping 1 (hour) less (i.e., 7 hours) than the recommended range increased the likelihood of property delinquency, and this risk increased for each hour of sleep missed.” (Clinkinbeard, Simi, Evans, & Anderson, Sleep and Delinquency: Does the Amount of Sleep Matter? (Jul. 2011) J. Youth & Adolescence, p. 926.)

In 2009, following a Rhode Island boarding school’s change in start times from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m., Dr. Judith Owens found the number of students reporting symptoms of depression declined, confirming outcomes from the Minnesota longitudinal studies (high school start times delayed to 8:30 a.m., Edina, 8:40 a.m., Minneapolis). (Owens, Belon, & Moss, Impact of Delaying School Start Time on Adolescent Sleep, Mood, and Behavior (Jul. 2010) 164 Archives Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 7, p. 613; Wahlstrom, Changing Times: Findings From the First Longitudinal Study of Later High School Start Times (Dec. 2002) 86 Nat. Assn. Secondary School Principals Bull. 633, pp. 3, 13.) Given the relationship between depression and suicidal ideation in adolescents, Dr. Owens commented the finding was “particularly noteworthy.” (Owens, Belon, & Moss, Impact of Delaying School Start Time on Adolescent Sleep, Mood, and Behavior, supra, 164 Archives Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 7, p. 613; see also, Dahl, The Consequences of Insufficient Sleep for Adolescents: Links Between Sleep and Emotional Regulation (Jan. 1999) 80 Phi Delta Kappan 5, pp. 354-359.) Serious consideration of suicide is among the many health-risk behaviors associated with restricted school night sleep in the 2011 CDC study. (McKnight-Eily, Eaton, Lowry, Croft, Presley-Cantrell, & Perry, Relationships between hours of sleep and health-risk behaviors in US adolescent students, supra, Preventive Medicine, pp. 1-3.) Suicide is the third leading cause of death among U.S. adolescents, in recent years accounting for 10% or more of all teen fatalities. (CDC Nat. Vital Statistics System, Mortality Tables.) Recent data put the suicide rate in the general population at 2.7%. (Miniño, Xu, & Kochanek, Deaths: Preliminary Data for 2008 (Dec. 9, 2010) 59 Nat. Vital Statistics Rep. 2.)

The adolescent sleep pattern runs from about 11 p.m. to 8 a.m. and is “rather fixed.” (Later Start Times for High School Students, supra, Univ. Minn.) As the National Sleep Foundation points out, only by carefully controlling light exposure, including wearing eyeshades to exclude evening light, have scientists been successful in modifying adolescent circadian rhythms. (Backgrounder: Later School Start Times (2011) Nat. Sleep Foundation.) Waking an adolescent at 7 a.m. is the “equivalent” of waking an adult at 4 a.m. (Carrell, Maghakian, & West, A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Performance of Adolescentssupra, 3 Am. Economic J.: Economic Policy 3, p. 64.) Joining other Harvard educators in endorsing later start times (e.g., here, here, here, here, here, pp. 382-383), Professor of Sleep Medicine Susan Redline advises that 7:30 a.m. and 8 a.m. classes begin too early for adolescent students to obtain sufficient sleep and serve to interrupt REM sleep. (Powell, Bleary America needs some shut-eye: Forum points to schools, hospitals, factories as ripe for sleep reform (Mar. 8, 2012) Harvard Science.) Brown University’s Mary Carskadon refers to early school start times as “just abusive.” (Carpenter, Sleep deprivation may be undermining teen health (Oct. 2001) 32 Am. Psychological Assn. Monitor 9.)

In 2009, scientists writing in the journal Developmental Neuroscience succinctly stated the uniformly held position of sleep experts on school start times: “For policy makers, teachers and parents, these results provide a clear mandate. The effects of sleep deprivation on grades, car accident risk, and mood are indisputable. A number of school districts have moved middle and high school start times later with the goal of decreasing teenage sleep deprivation. We support this approach, as results indicate that later school start times lead to decreased truancy and drop-out rates.” (Hagenauer, Perryman, Lee, & Carskadon, Adolescent Changes in the Homeostatic and Circadian Regulation of Sleep, supra, 31 Developmental Neuroscience 4, p. 282.)  

School leaders have a unique capacity to shape the lives of students. (See, Park, Falling Asleep in Class? Blame Biology (Dec. 15, 2008) CNN.) The time of day when school begins is different than other issues in education — it has the potential to implicate adolescent morbidity and mortality. (Sleep Experts Concerned About St. Paul Start Time Change (Jun. 3, 2011) CBS; Vorona, Szklo-Coxe, Wu, Dubik, Zhao, & Ware, Dissimilar Teen Crash Rates in Two Neighboring Southeastern Virginia Cities with Different High School Start Times, supra, 7 J. Clinical Sleep Med. 7, pp. 145-151.) Physicians have been urging school administrators to eliminate early starting hours for teenagers since at least 1994. (Minn. Med. Assn. Letter to Superintendent Dragseth (Apr. 4, 1994) Edina Pub. Schools.) It’s long past time to start listening.

Yours truly,

Your Name/Title/Affiliation

Start Time Recommendations, etc.:

“[F]urther research now shows that in adolescence protecting our children’s health and improving their learning means school starting times later than 9 a.m.”—Paul Kelley, Ph.D., author, educator. (Kelley, The New York Times and school starting times in adolescence – a breakthrough? (Apr. 3, 2014) Making Minds.)

“[G]iven the analyses summarized here, there are clear benefits for students whose high schools start at 8:30 AM or later. This would include, for teens who reported they got at least 8 hours of sleep per night, that they were more likely to say they have good overall health and were less likely to report being depressed or using caffeine and other substances (e.g., alcohol, tobacco, other drugs). Other positive findings include a significant reduction in local car crashes, less absenteeism, less tardiness, as well as higher test scores on national achievement tests. … [¶] … [T]here are empirically-based positive outcomes for adolescents whenever the start time of their high school is moved to a later time—with the starting time of 8:30 AM or later clearly showing the most positive results.”—Kyla Wahlstrom, Ph.D., Director, Center for Applied Research & Educational Improvement (CAREI), Univ. Minn.; Beverly J. Dretzke, Ph.D., Research Associate, Univ. Minn.; Molly F. Gordon, Ph.D., Senior Research Analyst, Univ. Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research; Kristin Peterson, M.A., Research Fellow, Univ. Minn.; Katherine Edwards, B.A., Research Assistant, Univ. Minn.; Julie Gdula, M.A., Research Assistant, Univ. Minn. (Wahlstrom, Dretzke, Gordon, Peterson, Edwards, & Gdula, Examining the Impact of Later School Start Times on the Health and Academic Performance of High School Students: A Multi-Site Study (Feb. 2014) CAREI, Univ. Minn., p. 52.)

“There are at least three policy changes that will assist in the prioritization of sleep: 1) healthcare policy requiring the inclusion of sleep questions on health service intake forms and health provider prompts, in much the same way that smoking or exercise are routinely discussed; 2) education policy mandating school start times no earlier than 9 a.m. for adolescents; and 3) medical education policy limiting the hours of medical interns’ and residents’ shifts.”—Alison Chopel, M.P.H., DrPH Candidate, Director, California Adolescent Health Collaborative, Public Health Institute (Chopel, Sleep is Healthy: A Simple, Old Idea with Big Consequences (Spring 2013) Policy Matters J.)

“During the school year, many teenagers find themselves nodding off during their early morning classes as high school bells ring around 7:30 a.m. While parents and teachers may attribute falling asleep during class to staying up too late checking Facebook statuses and texting with friends, medical evidence suggests that an early school start time before 8:30 a.m. is a greater culprit because classes are occurring when students’ brains and bodies are still in biological sleep mode.”—Kyla Wahlstrom, Ph.D., CAREI Director, Univ. Minn. (Wahlstrom, Later High School Start Times Improve Student Learning and Health (Aug. 24, 2012) Univ. Minn., College of Education & Human Development, Vision 2020 Blog.)

“High school should start at 8:45 a.m., or better at 9 o’clock.”—Jeffrey Deitz, M.D. (Deitz, Children’s Sleep: Time For A Wake-Up Call (Dec. 11, 2011) Huffpost: Healthy Living.)

Relying upon studies by Edwards (here), Carrell, et al. (here), the biological evidence, and data reflecting the prevalence of sleep deprivation among adolescents attending early starting schools, economists from Columbia University and the University of Michigan “conservatively” estimate that shifting middle and high school start times “from roughly 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.[,]” will increase academic achievement by 0.175 standard deviations on average, with effects for disadvantaged students roughly twice as large as advantaged students, at little or no cost to schools; i.e., a 9 to 1 benefits to costs ratio when utilizing single-tier busing, the most expensive transportation method available. (Jacob & Rockoff, Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments, supra, Hamilton Project, Brookings Inst., pp. 5-11, 21, n. 7 [considering study by Cortes, et al. (here), distinguishing study by Hinrichs (here)].) “This impact is equivalent to an additional two months of schooling.” (Policy Brief, Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments (Aug. 2011) Brookings Inst., Hamilton Project, p. 4.) “When translated into earnings, the average student who starts school later would make about $17,500 more over the course of her life.” (Ibid.; Jacob & Rockoff, Organizing Schools to Improve Student Achievement: Start Times, Grade Configurations, and Teacher Assignments, supra, Hamilton Project, Brookings Inst., pp. 6, 10 [accord].)

Sleep medicine and pulmonary specialist Dr. Robert Geck suggests high schools begin classes between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. (Arja, Classes too early for teens? (Jul. 18, 2011) My Fox Tampa Bay.)

“The study strongly recommends that middle schools should consider delaying the school starting time by at least one hour. Such a change could enhance students’ cognitive performance by improving their attention level, increasing rate of performance, as well as reducing their mistakes and impulsivity.”—Dubi Lufi, Ph.D., Emek Yezreel College, Emek Yezreel, Israel, Orna Tzischinsky, Ph.D., Emek Yezreel College, Emek Yezreel, Israel, Sleep Laboratory, Faculty of Medicine, Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel, Stav Hadar, M.A., Emek Yezreel College, Emek Yezreel, Israel. (Lufi, Tzischinsky, & Hadar, Delaying School Starting Time by One Hour: Some Effects on Attention Levels in Adolescents (Apr. 2011) 7 J. Clinical Sleep Med. 2, p. 137, italics added [study shifted start times from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.].)

“Probably, 9 o’clock would be the ideal start time for high schools.”—Judith Owens, M.D., M.P.H., Director of Sleep Medicine, Children’s National Medical Center. (Burns, No More Dozing Off in First Period (Aug. 1, 2010) Miller-McCune.)

Martin Ralph, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of Toronto, recommends that high school classes begin at 11 a.m. (Kruszelnicki, Teenage Sleep (May 3, 2007) ABC Science; see, Lim, Maas Pushes for Later Start Time at Schools (Feb. 26, 2009) Cornell Daily Sun [Harvard study finds teen brain doesn’t fully awaken until 11 a.m.]; Preckel, Lipnevich, Boehme, Brandner, Georgi, Könen, Mursin, & Roberts, Morningness-eveningness and educational outcomes: the lark has an advantage over the owl at high school (2011) British J. Education Psychology, pp. 1-21 [among 9th and 10th graders, larks (morningness chronotypes) outperform owls (eveningness chronotypes) on exams administered from 10 a.m. to noon].)

“A long-term solution to chronic sleep deprivation in adolescents that others conducting research on adolescent sleep behaviors support may mean that high school start times should be no earlier than 8:30 A.M.”—Heather Noland, M.Ed., James Price, Ph.D., M.P.H., Professor, Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, University of Toledo, Joseph Dake, Associate Professor, Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, University of Toledo, & Susan Telljohann, Professor, Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services, University of Toledo. (Noland, Price, Dake, & Telljohann, Adolescents’ Sleep Behaviors and Perceptions of Sleep (2009) 79 J. School Health 5, p. 230.)

“The often serious impact of this chronic under-sleeping is now evident in both high school and middle school students. [¶] For all students one of the most salient—and correctable—social factors contributing to student sleep deprivation, is school start times. [¶] The circadian biology of sleep would predict that among individual children, those who are predisposed to be ‘night owls’ would be even more likely to suffer the consequences of sleepiness in a school system that imposes start times before 9 a.m. [¶] In brief, there are two features of the circadian rhythm especially important to understand regarding sleep in teenagers: (1) the drowsy signal that cues bedtime is dependent on the dampening of circadian-dependent alertness; and (2) the physiology of puberty causes a shift in the circadian rhythm which delays the timing of this biological bedtime by about an hour. These two biological factors underlie the main difficulties faced by adolescents attending school before 9:00 a.m.: the general problem that one cannot easily fall asleep before their biological bedtime, and the additional problem that puberty creates a tendency for even later bedtimes. [¶] Though research has not yet identified an ideal school schedule, the wealth of evidence reviewed in this chapter and elsewhere strongly suggests that students have a better opportunity to be rested and ready to learn by delaying school start time to 8:30 a.m. or later.”—Edward O’Malley, Ph.D., former Assistant Professor of Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, former Director, Norwalk Hospital Sleep Disorders Center, Mary O’Malley, M.D., Ph.D., former Clinical Instructor, Department of Psychiatry, New York University, former Fellowship Director, Norwalk Hospital Sleep Disorders Center. (O’Malley & O’Malley, School Start Time and Its Impact on Learning and Behavior, publish. in, Sleep and Psychiatric Disorders in Children and Adolescents, supra, pp. 79, 83-84, 89.)

“Adopt a single start time (8:30-3:30) for all … Middle and High Schools.”—Chattanooga Crime Task Force Committee, Roger Thompson, Ed.D., Committee Chair, Associate Professor, Criminal Justice, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga. (Chattanooga Crime Task Force Comm. (2008) Crime Task Force Rep., p. 15, Recommendation No. 7.)

“Right now, high schools usually start earlier in the morning than elementary schools. But if school start times were based on sleep cycles, elementary schools should start at 7:30 and high schools at 8:30 or 8:45—right now it’s the reverse. School systems should be thinking about changing their start times. It would not be easy—they would have to change the busing system—but it would increase their student’s sleep time and likely improve their school performance.”—Richard Schwab, M.D., Associate Professor of Pulmonary Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Co-Director, Penn Sleep Center. (Start School Later in the Morning, Say Sleepy Teens (May 20, 2007) Am. Thoracic Society; cf. Epstein, Chillag, & Lavie, Starting times of school: effects on daytime functioning of fifth-grade children in Israel (May 1998) 21 Sleep 3, 250-256; see also, Scott, The Squeeze on Zs, Part 2: Teens Struggle with Sleep Time (Feb. 6, 2012) TownandCountry-Manchester Patch [“It really makes sense for elementary school students to go to school first.”---John Spivey, M.D., board certified specialist, pediatric sleep medicine, pediatric pulmonology]; but see, Keller, Smith, Gilbert, Bi, Haak, & Buckhalt, Earlier School Start Times as a Risk Factor for Poor School Performance: An Examination of Public Elementary Schools in the Commonwealth of Kentucky (Jun. 2014) J. Educational Psychology, pp. 1-10 [middle and upper class elementary school students perform better on standardized tests at later starting schools; no change found for disadvantaged students]; Li, Arguelles, Jiang, Chen, Jin, Yan, Tian, Hong, Qian, Zhang, Wang, & Shen, Sleep, School Performance, and a School-Based Intervention among School-Aged Children: A Sleep Series Study in China (Jul. 10, 2013) Plos One [school age children starting school at 8:30 a.m. slept longer and reported less daytime sleepiness than children starting at 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m]; Epstein, Chillag, & Lavie, Starting times of school: effects on daytime functioning of fifth-grade children in Israel (May 1998) 21 Sleep 3, 250-256 [significant sleep deprivation reported for 5th grade students starting school at 7:10 a.m.].)

“Overall, many adolescents confront a major challenge if schools begin earlier than 8:30 a.m.; many schools start too early in the morning for adolescents to get adequate sleep, whether in the United States or in other countries such as Canada, Israel, Brazil, or Italy. [¶] [S]chool administrators are being urged to acknowledge the evidence and to adjust school schedules accordingly (e.g., delay high school start times).”—Amy Wolfson, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, College of the Holy Cross, Mary Carskadon, Ph.D., Professor of Psychiatry& Human Behavior, Brown University School of Medicine, Director of Chronobiology and Sleep Research, Bradley Hospital. (Wolfson & Carskadon, A Survey of Factors Influencing High School Start Times, supra, 89 Nat. Assn. Secondary School Principals Bull. 642, pp. 49, 50, citations omitted.)

“Schools with start times before 8:30 a.m. place students at a disadvantage in terms of arousal and alertness, not only for early morning classes but also throughout the day because adolescents’ biological rhythms are out of sync with typical school routines.”—Peg Dawson, Ed.D., N.C.S.P., Staff Psychologist, Center for Learning and Attention Disorders, Seacoast Mental Health Center, past president of the New Hampshire Association of School Psychologists, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the International School Psychology Association. (Dawson, Sleep and Adolescents (Jan. 2005) Counseling 101, p. 12; see also, Dawson, Sleep and Sleep Disorders in Children and Adolescents: Information for Parents and Educators (2004) Nat. Assn. School Psychologists Resources.)

Citing research to support their position, the California Student Advisory Board on Legislation in Education recommended delaying start times throughout the state to 8:40 a.m. The student board noted the detrimental effects of early start times on attendance, academic performance, and behavior. The board’s fiscal analysis predicted that delaying start times would increase attendance “resulting in more ADA money for schools” and test scores “will rise. Higher test scores (API) will insure greater levels of federal funding.” The students concluded, “even with the implementation of state-sponsored pilot programs, the costs will be far outweighed by the benefits of the program.” (Cal. Assn. Student Councils (2004) Cal. Student Advisory Bd. on Legislation in Education, School Starting Time, pp. 10-11.)

“Although providing a home environment to promote healthy sleep is the first step to eliminating sleep deprivation in adolescents, increased public awareness of the impact of sleep on learning and behavior is important. For this to occur legislation to ensure that high school start times not begin before 9:00 a.m. may help in reducing sleep deprivation leading to improved academic performance and behavior[.]”—Georgios Mitru, M.Ed., Daniel Millrood, M.Ed., M.S.P.T., New York Medical College faculty, Jason H. Mateika, Ph.D., Professor of Physiology, Wayne State University. (Mitru, Millrood, & Mateika, The Impact of Sleep on Learning and Behavior in Adolescents (Jun. 2002) 104 Teachers College Record 4, p. 721.)

“In 1913, Terman and Hocking (1913) reported that sleep in adolescents in the western U.S. was longer than that previously reported in studies of English (n=6180) (Ravenhill 1910) or German (Bernhard 1908) children and adolescents. One of the factors that they felt explained this difference was that school start times were an hour later (9:00 AM) in the U.S. than those in Germany and England (7:00–8:00 AM). They go so far as to state, ‘The American practice of beginning at 9 o’clock is far wiser, and should never be changed unless for very special reasons.’ ” (Colrain & Baker, Changes in Sleep as a Function of Adolescent Development (2011) 21 Neuropsychology Rev., p. 13, quoting Terman & Hocking, The sleep of school children; its distribution according to age, and its relation to physical and mental efficiency (1913) J. Educational Psychology, p. 271.)

Implicit Recommendations

On January 26, 2012, at  Brown University Professor of Medicine Richard Millman encouraged Barrington High School administrators to delay morning classes by one hour from the present 7:40 a.m. start time. (Rupp, Barrington Studies Later School Start Time For Teens (Jan. 27, 2012) East Greenwich Patch.)

In 2008, following a presentation by Cornell University Professor of Psychology James Maas concerning the “conflict” between “academic clocks” and “teenagers’ body clocks,” Deerfield Academy delayed start times from 7:55 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. (Lim, Maas Pushes for Later Start Time at Schools, supra, Cornell Daily Sun.)

“Of all the arguments I’ve heard over school start-times, not one person has argued that children learn more at 7:15 a.m. than at 8:30.”—Mark Mahowald, M.D., Professor of Neurology, University of Minnesota Medical School, visiting Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University. (Bronson, Snooze or Lose (Oct. 7, 2007) N.Y. Magazine, web p. 3.)

Less Specific Recommendations 

“We believe that high schools should take a close look at having later start times to align with circadian rhythms in teens and to allow for longer sleep times. Too many teens in this country obtain insufficient sleep. A burgeoning literature suggests that this may lead to problematic consequences including mood disorders, academic difficulties and behavioral issues.”—Robert Vorona, M.D., Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, Eastern Virginia Medical School in Norfolk, Virginia, after finding, inter alia, 41% higher teen crash rate in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where high school classes began at 7:20—7:25 a.m., than in adjacent Chesapeake, Virginia, where classes started at 8:40—8:45 a.m. (Teen Automobile Crash Rates are Higher When School Starts Earlier (May 12, 2010) Am. Acad. Sleep Med.; see, Vorona, Szklo-Coxe, Wu, Dubik, Zhao, & Ware, Dissimilar Teen Crash Rates in Two Neighboring Southeastern Virginia Cities with Different High School Start Times, supra, 7 J. Clinical Sleep Med. 2, 145-151; Crash rates may be higher for teen drivers who start school earlier (Apr. 12, 2011) Am. Acad. Sleep Med.) 

“These analyses suggest that earlier high school-start times contributed to an increase in crash rates amongst teenagers in the United States. They are additional data suggesting that high school start times should be delayed to increase the amount of sleep that teenagers get during the school week and, hence, reduce the amount of sleep deprivation they incur.”—Stuart Quan, M.D., Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Senior Physician, Division of Sleep Medicine, Department of Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, commenting on the study by Vorona, et al., supra. (Quan, Podcast Transcript (Apr. 2011) 7 J. Clinical Sleep Med. 2, p. 1.)

The single most profound difference we could make [i]n education … would be to let teens sleep on nature’s schedule (midnight to 9 a.m. or later).—JoAnn Deak, Ph.D., Educator and Psychologist. (Large, Shedding light on the teen brain (Jun. 8, 2009) The Seattle Times.)

Russell Foster, Ph.D., F.R.S., Head of Nuffield Laboratory of Ophthalmology, Chair of Circadian Neuroscience, Oxford University, says teenagers are biologically wired to stay up late and wake late, making a 9 a.m. start too early. (Critchley, Sleepy teens want later start (May 4, 2007) Herald Sun.) In 2007, Professor Foster suggested classes not begin until the afternoon because teens’ body clocks can be delayed between two and four hours. (Making teens start school in the morning is ‘cruel,’ brain doctor claims (Dec. 1, 2007) London Evening Standard; see also, Hansen, Janssen, Schiff, Zee, & Dubocovich, The Impact of Daily Schedule on Adolescent Sleep, supra, 115 Pediatrics 6, pp. 1555-1561 [high school seniors perform better in the afternoon than in the morning on vigilance tests, symbol copying, visual search tasks, and logical reasoning].) More recently, however, Professor Foster has endorsed “an extra hour in bed” and expressed approval of the UCL Academy “later” start time; i.e., 10 a.m. (Foster, Why teenagers really do need an extra hour in bed (Apr. 22, 2013) New Scientist; see, Parsons, Could a one-hour lie-in improve pupils’ exam results? UK schools ‘could move class start times back to 10am’ (Mar. 18, 2013) Yahoo! News.)

General Counsel

“[C]hildren and adolescents with restricted sleep are at greater risk for increased oppositionality and irritability, as well as reduced attention, executive functioning, processing speed, behavioral/emotional regulation, motivation and academic achievement. … Certainly this causal link between sleep loss and impaired functioning in children and adolescents provides the impetus for consideration of delaying school start times, particularly for adolescents, who are experiencing a natural delay in circadian rhythm.” (Crabtree & Witcher, Impact of Sleep Loss on Children and Adolescents, publish. in, Sleep and Psychiatric Disorders in Children and Adolescents (Informa Healthcare 2008, Ivanenko edit.) p. 144.)

“[S]chools need to incorporate into their pedagogical proposal measures that would reduce the impact of phase delay on the student’s performance. [¶] The first step would be to reconsider the school’s temporal organization, in particular its class schedules, and systematize the results of possible interventions that aim to reduce the student’s daily sleepiness and thereby improve performance. [¶] The changes we propose are apparently simple modifications, such as delaying the beginning of morning classes.” (Louzada, Teixeira da Silva, Peixoto, & Menna-Barreto, The Adolescence Sleep Phase Delay: Causes, Consequences and Possible Interventions (Jul. 2008) 1 Sleep Science, p. 52.)

“Recent research has focused on the effects of daytime sleepiness in the student population. Poor sleep quality has been linked to increased tension, irritability, depression, more frequent use of alcohol and illicit drugs, accidents, and lowered academic performance. Sleep problems are common and unrecognized in the student group. The influence of sleep on learning and behavior has recently captured the attention of school districts across the United States and school administrators increasingly need to weigh the factual information about the biology of student sleep patterns against the competing demands of teachers’ work preferences and athletic and after-school schedules. [¶] [T]here is increasing data that early school start times result in increased daytime sleepiness, and altering the times to a later time period has positive effects on academic performance and sleepiness.” (Bijwadia & Dexter, The Student with Sleep Complaints, publish. in, Sleep: A Comprehensive Handbook (Lee-Chiong, edit., Wiley-Liss 2006) pp. 959, 960.)

“There is a need for educators to be more aware of the impact of school start times and academic scheduling, and to consider sleep problems as potential factors in students who fail to achieve or who exhibit behavioural problems. While it may be administratively convenient to begin high school classes early, there is strong evidence in our data, supported by the literature, suggesting that later start times would be more appropriate for teens.” (Gibson, Powles, Thabane, O’Brien, Molnar, Trajanovic, Ogilvie, Shapiro, Yan, & Chilcott-Tanser, Sleepiness” is serious in adolescence: Two surveys of 3235 Canadian students (May 2006) 6 Bio Med Central Pub. Health 116, p. 8.)

“Where possible, efforts should be made to encourage lighter homework loads and later school start times, so that adolescents can go to bed and wake up at times that are more suited to their bodily rhythms.” (Fredriksen, Rhodes, Reddy, & Way, Sleepless in Chicago: Tracking the Effects of Adolescent Sleep Loss During the Middle School Years (Jan./Feb. 2004) 75 Child Development 1, p. 94.)

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