Sample Advocacy Letter (outline format)
August 18, 2012 § Leave a comment
This sample letter letter below (here in docx) includes excerpts from a May 23, 2012 article authored by RAND Corporation scientist Wendy Troxel, Ph.D. Citations to studies and articles supporting Dr. Troxel’s assertions are presented in an outline format. Two alternative sample letters are available; here (comprehensive overview) and here (focuses on academic achievement before addressing health/welfare issues).
Phone, fax, and/or email
Dear Superintendent Last Name and Members of the School Board,
I am the parent/guardian of a child attending School Name. The School Name bell schedule requires children to begin morning classes time period before the earliest start time proposed by any expert for these students. (See expert recommendations, infra.) To safeguard the welfare and intellectual potential of these children, sleep scientists recommend a delay in morning classes until 8:30 a.m., or later. I am writing to request that the School District implement healthy start times for middle and/or high school students.
In May of 2012, Wendy Troxel, a RAND Corporation behavioral and social scientist, and Adjunct Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Psychology at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine, joined by more than 50 of her colleagues, cautioned Pittsburgh Public Schools against implementing a plan to advance high school start times by 30 minutes to 7:36 a.m., or by 60 minutes to 7:06 a.m., in order to save $1.2 million in transportation costs.
“Robust evidence has long demonstrated the adverse consequences of early school start times for teenagers’ academic, mental, social and physical well-being. And no, they can’t just go to bed earlier — their hormones won’t let them. [¶] Keeping the ultimate goal of our education system in mind (to prepare students to become contributing members of society), evidence suggests that earlier school start times are associated with significant reductions in academic achievement — with the strongest effects among the most economically disadvantaged students. [¶] We understand there is no easy fix for the Pittsburgh public schools’ budget problems. But making a short-sighted decision that flies in the face of unequivocal scientific evidence would, in the long term, cost the city of Pittsburgh far more in terms of lost wages, higher rates of crime, more motor vehicle accidents and increased rates of obesity and associated health complications. [¶] Before deciding to move up start times — whether by an hour or a half hour — the Pittsburgh school board should weigh against a negligible savings in dollars the considerable costs to our children and to our society. [¶] As scientists, parents and members of the Pittsburgh community, we strongly oppose making school start times earlier, even by a half hour.” (Troxel, The high cost of sleepy teens (May 23, 2012) Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)
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 (Sept. 2011) 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].)
(a) 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.) The biological preference for later sleep/wake patterns commences with puberty. (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. 79-81, 83-84.) A recent longitudinal study “demonstrated that adolescent changes in sleep (delayed sleep phase and disrupted sleep) are evident prior to the bodily changes associated with puberty.” (Wolfson & Richards, Young Adolescents: Struggles with Insufficient Sleep, publish. in, Sleep and Development (Oxford Univ. Press, El Sheikh edit. 2011) p. 268.) Adolescents require 9 or more hours of sleep per night. (O’Malley & O’Malley, supra, pp. 79-80.) Sleep-deprivation prevails among teenagers attending schools with 7:30 a.m. start times. (See, e.g., Ming, Koransky, Kang, Buchman, Sarris, & Wagner, Sleep Insufficiency, Sleep Health Problems and Performance in High School Students (Oct. 20, 2011) Clinical Medicine Insights: Circulatory, Respiratory & Pulmonary Medicine 5, pp. 71-79.) “[S]tudents who start school at 7:30 a.m. or earlier obtain less total sleep on school nights because of earlier rise times.” (Millman, edit., Excessive Sleepiness in Adolescents and Young Adults: Causes, Consequences, and Treatment Strategies (Jun. 2005) 115 Pediatrics 6, p. 1776.)
(b) “[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.) Consistent with previous studies, the 2011 National Sleep Foundation poll found only 14% of teenagers between the ages of 13 and 18 reported getting the recommended number of hours of sleep 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.)
(c) The District Name schedule will continue to have middle and high school students in class while melatonin pressures them to sleep (Later Start Times for High School Students (Jun. 2002) University Minn.), thus impairing academic performance. (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; Edwards, Early to Rise? The Effect of Daily Start Times on Academic Performance (Dec. 2012) 31 Economics of Education Rev. 6, pp. 970-983.) The study by Carrell, et al., supra, found “that when a student is randomly assigned to a first period course starting prior to 8 a.m., they perform significantly worse in all their courses taken on that day compared to students who are not assigned to a first period course. Importantly, we find that this negative effect diminishes the later the school day begins.” (Carrell, Maghakian, & West, A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Performance of Adolescents, supra, 3 Am. Economic J.: Economic Policy 3, p. 63, italics added.) This outcome is supported by Edwards’ seven-year study which found a 1.5 to 3 percentile gain in middle school standardized math and reading scores when start times were delayed by one hour, to 8:30 a.m. Edwards notes the benefit is greatest for the bottom half of the distribution. (Edwards, Early to Rise? The Effect of Daily Start Times on Academic Performance, supra, 31 Economics of Education Rev. 6, pp. 970-983.) A 2009 study of Chicago public high schools found students beginning morning classes at 8 a.m. showed marked deficiencies in performance in first period math courses throughout the term. (Cortes, Bricker, & Rohlfs, The Role of Specific Subjects in Education Production Functions: Evidence from Morning Classes in Chicago Public High Schools (2012) 12 B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy 1, Art. 27, p. 30.) Students were also more likely to be absent (by 3.6 to 6.8 days per year depending on the subject) in first period relative to other periods. (Id., p. 23.) By contrast, truancy/tardiness rates fell at St. George’s School (a Rhode Island boarding school) when start times were delayed from 8 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. (Owens, Belon, & Moss, Impact of Delaying School Start Time on Adolescent Sleep, Mood, and Behavior (Jul. 2010) 164 Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 7, pp. 608-614.) Researchers also noted “significant improvements” in student alertness following the 30-minute delay. (Id., p. 608; 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.)
(d) Teens will be driving while their circadian biology dictates sleep, impairing psychomotor performance and increasing the likelihood of driving crashes. (See, 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. 7, pp. 145-151; Danner, & Phillips, Adolescent Sleep, School Start Times, and Teen Motor Vehicle Crashes (Dec. 2008) 4 J. Clinical Sleep Med. 6, pp. 533–535.) 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.) “[T]his 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.)
(e) 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 & Mindell, Sleep 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.)
(f) Following the 30 minute start time delay to 8:30 a.m. at St. George’s School, Dr. Judith Owens found the number of students reporting symptoms of depression declined (Owens, Belon, & Moss, Impact of Delaying School Start Time on Adolescent Sleep, Mood, and Behavior, supra, 164 Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 7, p. 613), confirming outcomes from the Minnesota longitudinal studies (high school start times delayed to 8:30 a.m., Edina, 8:40 a.m., Minneapolis). (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 of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine 7, p. 613; Sleep Experts Concerned About St. Paul Start Time Change (Jun. 3, 2011) CBS.) 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.)
CDC scientists report, “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.) 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 (2009) 31 Developmental Neuroscience 4, p. 282; see also, Carskadon, For better student health, start school later (Sept. 5, 2012) Brown Univ.; Carskadon, Vieira, & Acebo, Association between puberty and delayed phase preference (1993) 16 Sleep 3, p. 261.)
Please follow the evidence when determining the time of day school begins.
(Consider citing the reader to some or all Start Time Recommendations, etc. (html, docx, and pdf), perhaps in lieu of the foregoing letter.)