“Hopefully, in the near future, increased awareness of the sleep problems faced by teenagers should motivate schools across the country to synchronize school schedules with students’ circadian clocks. That way, teenagers are in school during their most alert hours to achieve their full academic potential.” (518)—Saiprakash B. Venkateshiah, M.D., F.C.C.P., Assistant Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine.
CDC scientists report, “Delaying school start times is a demonstrated strategy to promote sufficient sleep among adolescents.” (26) While some schools have implemented sweeping start time changes (see, e.g., n. 519 [New Zealand high school delayed start time by 90 minutes to 10:30 a.m. for year 12 and 13 students]), in most jurisdictions, achieving meaningful change in secondary school scheduling has proven exceedingly difficult. (See, e.g., Appendix, infra, Schools Recently Delaying Start Times, etc., Northampton, MA, Fairfax, VA; see also, n. 520 [benefits of 20 minute delay may be difficult to ascertain]; but see, n. 107 [daytime sleepiness, depressed mood, and caffeine use significantly reduced when private school start time delayed 25 minutes to 8:25 a.m.] and, § IV.C., infra [alertness, mood, and health improved among boarding school students following 30 minute delay to 8:30 a.m.].)
“The attempt to make significant changes in education systems is often likened to trying to change the course of a supertanker ship – with the inertia for the present course being extraordinarily powerful and with changes often occurring only in small degrees. Such is the case for attempting to change the current start time for high schools. The path toward making that change is replete with real and presumed obstacles in the form of facts and misperceptions.” (Wahlstrom, Accommodating the Sleep Patterns of Adolescents Within Current Educational Structures: An Uncharted Path, publish. in, Adolescent Sleep Patterns, Biological, Social, and Psychological Influences (Carskadon, edit., Cambridge Univ. Press 2002) p. 172.)
The National Sleep Foundation recognizes eight potential obstacles to adjusting school schedules (i.e., restoring historically prevalent later school scheduling (see, § III, supra)), and proposes possible solutions for each problem. (521)
Transportation & Economics
Transportation is the first obstacle noted. (521) Fredonia State College Associate Professor Charles Stoddart observes, “The tail of transportation wags the dog of the educational system.” (522) For districts utilizing tiered busing, the National Sleep Foundation proposes “flipping” the schedules of primary and secondary school children since most young children can rise early without difficulty, provided they get to bed early enough to ensure they get the 10-11 hours of sleep they need. (521) However, in discussing obstacle number 3, “Other Students and Programs,” the Foundation appears to challenge its own advice, noting, “Research is lacking on the effect of school start times on younger students, so it is hard to justify their earlier start.” (521)
While sleep scientists report that elementary students are biologically able to begin school by 7:30 a.m., (523) consideration must be given to the effects of long bus rides, (1) and care must be taken to ensure young children will not be left to await transport in darkness. (20) A 7:30 a.m. elementary school start time makes 6:15 a.m. a viable rise time (5) (possibly earlier for bus riders), (3, 301) meaning students would have to be in bed (and asleep) by 7:15 p.m. in order to obtain 11 hours of sleep; perhaps biologically possible, (523.5) but impractical in many households. (523.6)
Boston University scientists recently presented findings from a survey of students in grades 3-5 before and after a 35-minute start time advance, from 8:20 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. (524) Following the schedule change, third-graders reported actually gaining an additional 24 minutes of sleep, increasing their weeknight sleep to 10 hours, 35 minutes. (524) Fourth and fifth grade student sleep, however, declined by 4 minutes (to 9 hours, 59 minutes), and by 9 minutes (to 9 hours, 40 minutes), respectively. (524) The researchers attribute the longer sleep among third graders to “heightened community awareness[.]” (524) All elementary school students went to bed earlier following the start time change (3rd and 4th graders at 8:22 p.m., 5th graders at 8:43 p.m.; 15, 30, and 27 minutes earlier, respectively), but third-graders, unlike their fourth and fifth-grade peers, actually rose 8 minutes later, at 6:57 a.m. (524) Fourth graders awakened at 6:22 a.m., 34 minutes earlier, fifth graders awakened at 6:23 a.m., 36 minutes earlier. (524)
Notably, the number of third graders awakening without assistance following the change increased from 44% to 70.8%. (524) By contrast, only 21.9% and 22.6% of fourth and fifth graders, respectively, awakened independently after the start time shift, declines of 16.9% and 9.1%, respectively. (524) The significance of this data may be discerned from the words of Terman and Hocking, cited recently by Professor Buckhalt:
“In 1913, Lewis Terman expressed a common opinion that ‘…physicians and writers on school hygiene agree that children are less likely to receive less sleep than is needful to them. [¶] As regards the school child, the wisest course in all probability is for us to make the conditions such that the child will spontaneously sleep as many hours a day as he wants to sleep, while avoiding all conditions which would tend to abbreviate or unduly prolong the sleep beyond the standard. Liberal allowance should also be made for individual differences, for not all the range of variation which we have found in the hours of sleep for children at any particular age can be accounted for on the basis of habit and environment. There are undoubtedly physiological idiosyncrasies which make nine hours for one child equivalent to eleven hours for another.’ ” (224, 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, pp. 138, 208.)
A 1998 study found that even pre-adolescent fifth grade students reported significant sleep deprivation when a 7:10 a.m. start time was imposed in Israel. (525) “In reality, because of the fixed school schedule, children are exposed to remarkable sleep loss at entry into primary school.” (535) In school-age children, mild sleep loss increases the likelihood of behavioral problems, (526, 527) and produces marked deficits in cognitive development and functioning. (526, 527, 529, 530, 531) Sleep specialist Dr. Jana Kaimal believes 7:30 a.m. is too early for kids to begin absorbing classroom information. (532) The national advocacy group Start School Later (whose advisory board includes several prominent sleep scientists), (533) proposes that no student at any grade level begin morning classes before 8 a.m. (534) A recent study of school age Chinese students found that children starting classes at 8:30 a.m. slept longer and reported less daytime sleepiness than children starting at 7:30 a.m. or 8 a.m. (535) As discussed in the Appendix (see, Start Time Recommendations, etc.) and elsewhere, (2, 6, 11, 12, 13, 15, 100, 305, 341, 523) 8:30 a.m. is the earliest start time suggested by any sleep expert for middle or high school students.
While anecdotal evidence suggests the initial financial impact of adjusting bus schedules may range from substantial expense to windfall savings (see e.g., n. 521, infra), economists point out that changing the ordering of elementary and high schools in a tiered system should have little, if any, direct financial cost to school districts. (49) Consistent with this observation, neither the suburban school district of Edina (6,800 students), nor the urban district of Minneapolis (50,000 students), found that the change to a later start increased transportation costs. (37) The same buses and routes were used, the only changes made were the times the buses used the routes. (37) By contrast, moving from a multi-tiered system to a single tier system would entail an increase in transportation expenditures. (49)
Assuming aggregate costs of $150 per student per year over the thirteen years a student is in a K–12 system, (354) Brookings Institute economists Jacob and Rockoff arrive at an increase in transportation costs of $1,950 over a student’s school career to move to a single tier system. (49) As previously noted (§ III.A., supra), middle and high school academic achievement is estimated to increase by 0.175 standard deviations on average, with effects for disadvantaged students roughly twice as large as advantaged students, when start times are delayed by one hour, from “roughly 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.” (49) This may be significant for schools attempting to meet minimum competency requirements. (44, 354) Following the “methodology used in Krueger (2003),” the economists estimate the start time change will increase individual student lifetime earnings by approximately $17,500 in present value. (49) The benefits to costs ratio is “conservatively” estimated at 9 to 1. (49) As previously noted (see, § III, supra), the National Center for Education Statistics reports that for the years 2011-2012, only 3.8 percent of U.S. junior and senior high schools began at 9 a.m. or later. (20.5)
In order to manage school budgets, many administrators reconfigure bus schedules to advance start times for middle or high school students. In the larger picture, however, any realized savings may be undone by the diminished academic performance associated with early start times; (24, 323, 354) i.e., lower academic achievement means slower growth in the economy. (323, 324, 325) There is a “strong relationship” between academic achievement, cognitive skills, and national economic growth. (323, 324, 325) In addition, as discussed earlier (see, § III, supra), Assistant Professor Troxel advises that advancing start times to save money represents “short-sighted” thinking, and will, “in the long term, cost … far more in terms of lost wages, higher rates of crime, more motor vehicle accidents and increased rates of obesity and associated health complications.” (317)
Moreover, economist Finley Edwards observes that eliminating tiered busing and moving all students to the same schedule may provide a much less expensive means of improving academic performance than reducing class size. (354)
“With approximately 100,000 students per year divided into three tiers, it would cost roughly $150 per student each year to move each student in the two earliest start-time tiers to the latest start time. In comparison, an experimental study of class sizes in Tennessee finds that reducing class size by one-third increases test scores by 4 percentile points in the first year at a cost of $2,151 per student per year (in 1996 dollars). These calculations, while very rough, suggest that delaying the beginning of the school day may produce a comparable improvement in test scores at a fraction of the cost.” (354)
As previously noted, University of California and U.S. Air Force Academy economists found a later start time of 50 minutes “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.” (24, italics added.) Stanford University economist Eric Hanushek calculates that replacing one average teacher with one above average teacher (one standard deviation above the mean) for a class of 20 “will—each year—raise students’ aggregate earnings … by more than $400,000.” (323)
Objections & Responses
During his recent tenure as National Sleep Foundation Chairman, Russell Rosenberg, Ph.D., encouraged teachers to “embrace” later start times “given the positive impact they have on students.” (544) The evidence thus far, however, suggests this is seldom the case. Many teachers oppose starting later due to concerns they may have to commute during peak traffic, (316) or may have less time with their families, (521) or because they believe students cause their own sleepiness by regularly go to bed too late, etc. (Roenneberg, Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired (DuMont Bucherverlag 2012) pp. 110, 113.)
Barrington High School teachers voted overwhelmingly against changing the 7:40 a.m. start time following a presentation by Brown University Professor of Medicine Richard Millman supporting a one hour delay. (See, Appendix, infra, Schools Recently Delaying Start Times, etc., R.I.) In Sacramento, California, a teachers’ union “attacked the research” before disapproving a contract modification which would have allowed a start time change, 7:50 a.m. to 8:20 a.m. (Id., Rio Americano High School, Cal.) Anne Pasco, President of the Fairfield Education Association, actually urged the Fairfield Public Schools Board of Education to advance high school start times from 7:50 a.m. and 7:40 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. so that the district might save $500,000 in transportation costs. Pasco opined, “$500,000 is a lot of money to allocate to give a child an opportunity if he wants 10 minutes more of sleep a day or 20 minutes.” (See, Appendix, infra, Incognizant “Educators,” Conn.)
The remaining obstacles or objections to later school scheduling include resistance to change, concerns that students will be in school too late in the day to reasonably participate in sports, jobs, internships, and other extracurricular activities, (12, 316, 521, 545, 546) daycare plans being interrupted, (547) and, parents failing to address proper sleep hygiene with their children. (548)
Certainly, parents should ensure reasonable bedtimes, (121, 122) impose limits on technology use, and encourage exercise in children to help them get the sleep they need. (108) “We can also help teenagers gain control over their own sleep patterns by teaching sleep and circadian principles in middle and high school health education. Minimizing exposure to light at night, as well as reducing computer or TV usage immediately before bedtime can naturally advance circadian phase. Similarly, incorporating outdoor morning activity into a teenage schedule can reduce trouble falling asleep at night.” (103)
Economists (49) and sleep scientists (6, 100) note that “many of the conflicts associated with later start times could be minimized if the change in school schedules took place at a regional” (49) or state level (6, 100) rather than at the district level. (6, 49, 100) Until then, facilitating participation in after-school activities requiring daylight may mean students with study hall or free periods in their schedules have to calendar those periods for the end of the day in order to participate in extracurricular activities. (295) Student athletes could be made exempt from physical education requirements, providing additional room in the schedules in order to arrange for an early dismissal. (295)
Brookings Institute economists propose districts “consider installing lights for athletic fields that allow students to practice later in the day. While this would certainly be an additional expense, a back-of-the envelope calculation suggests that the benefits of later starting times would outweigh the costs. Officials in the Ann Arbor Public Schools, for example, estimate that it costs roughly $110,000 to erect lights for an athletic field, and $2,500 annually to operate such lights. Even if a district had to construct and maintain lights at multiple high schools, this investment certainly seems worthwhile compared with the estimated $17,500 per student benefit of later start times.” (49)
In 2011, scientists writing for the journal Educational Researcher responded to many of the remaining objections:
“Many who oppose changing school start times cite the disruption of extracurricular activities as a prohibiting factor. Some school boards have successfully implemented a start time change without disrupting extracurricular activities—and, ironically, without having to schedule after-school activities before school—simply by scheduling events later. In fact, results from the Minneapolis study show that later start times did not significantly affect student participation in after-school activities (Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, 1998b). The only problem was that some children were pulled out of class early for away-from-school sporting events (e.g., Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, 1998a; National Sleep Foundation, 2005e).
“Perhaps the most important consideration is that the schools that have successfully delayed school start times with minimal complications had adequate time to prepare, which they spent engaged in research, policy analysis, and a healthy discourse with the public. However, it should be noted that, in any school district where the start times are changed, it is likely that those directly and indirectly involved in the school system will need to make some degree of sacrifice for the benefit of the students. [¶] [T]he inconvenient consequences of changing school start times can be attenuated. There is evidence that with adequate planning and preparation, school boards have been able to delay school start times at acceptable monetary cost (given the enormous potential payoff) and tolerable disruption of community functioning.” (63, italics added.)
A recent unpublished study undertaken at Winona Senior High School in Minnesota found no adverse impact on student-athletes’ academic performance, despite a 9 a.m. start time and as many as 15.1 school periods missed to attend sports contests. (550) An earlier published study comparing preseason and postseason grades in English, math, science, and social science courses found that playing sports had no impact on academic achievement for students from four rural high school districts. (551)
Mark Mahowald, Professor of Neurology at the University of Minnesota Medical School and former Director of the Minnesota Regional Sleep Disorders Center, reminds school leaders that despite formidable opposition from tradition and inertia, they must remember what is best for students. (20) “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.” (293) Mahowald has been involved in many school start-time debates, and he dismisses claims there are too many obstacles to changing school start times. (293)
“Not a single excuse we’ve heard relates to education. None of the excuses have the word ‘education’ in them. We should send kids to high school in a condition that promotes learning rather than interfering with it.” (20)
Implementation vs. “ABC” Management
Writing for Time Magazine, two Harvard educators propose national “collective action: we’d all have to make the switch together.” (556)
“Until the late 1960’s, the people of Sweden all drove on the left side of the road, like they do in England today. Then, one day, overnight, all the road signs in Sweden were changed, and everyone — together — started driving on the right side of the road. There were very few accidents and many benefits. Any major change in the social status quo is hard, but it is not impossible, and it often needs to be dramatic.” (556)
While the article’s authors are joined by many Harvard colleagues in endorsing later secondary school scheduling (319, 352, 476, 533, Coch, Fischer, & Dawson, Human Behavior, Learning, and the Developing Brain: Typical Development (Informa Healthcare 2010) pp. 382-383; see, Rauch, What is Normal Sleep for Children and Adolescents? publish. in, Attention Deficit Disorder: Practical Coping Mechanisms (Fisher, edit., Informa Healthcare, 2nd ed. 2007) p. 175), implementation of the Swedish solution assumes at least two things yet to be demonstrated by the great majority of school administrators: (1) sufficient knowledge of the subject matter to be persuaded of the need for change; and, (2) a willingness to undertake the work necessary to make the change, even when persuaded of the necessity. (12, 20.5)
When asked about adjusting school schedules to comport with adolescent phase delay, former San Mateo County Superintendent of Schools Floyd Gonella, Ed.D., responded, “Trying to adjust school times to sleep patterns has no validity. And even if it does, scientific facts come out and then three days later, there’s another study countering that.” (184) Edmond Burnes, principal of Battery Creek High School, said he’s not convinced delaying start times would have much effect on students at “his school.” (552) Mr. Burnes explained that the research with which he was familiar involved different demographics than those of Battery Creek. (552) When Westchester schools declined an initiative to start high schools later, then-superintendent Karen McCarthy, Ph.D., explained, “There’s still something that doesn’t click for me.” (316) Following students’ assertions that the plan to advance high school start times to 7:35 a.m. would run counter to findings from studies conducted in other districts, Parkway School Board Member Bruce Major responded, “I can Google right now, and come up with research that will say just about anything.” (553)
In his Preface to the Stanford Sleep Book, Professor William Dement notes the “stunning truth” of this observation by former United States Senator Mark Hatfield: “America is a vast reservoir of ignorance about sleep, sleep deprivation and sleep disorders.” As Holy Cross Professor of Psychology Amy Wolfson points out,
“Although sleep consumes approximately one-third of our lives (50% at early school age), it is often ignored by developmental psychologists, pediatricians, educators, and others who devote their lives to working with children and adolescents. For example, sleep is rarely mentioned in textbooks on adolescent development, child-adolescent sleep topics are infrequently presented at the Society for Research on Child Development meetings (.3% of presentations at the 1995 biennial SRCD meeting), and pediatricians get very little training in sleep medicine.” (560)
CAREI Director Kyla Wahlstrom suggests that “pairing the growing body of medical research with the educational outcomes seems to be the logical path to argue for changing to later start times.” (293) Dr. Venkateshiah adds, “Sleep specialists can play an important role by educating school administrators about the potential adverse outcomes of very early school start times.” (518) School administrators, however, may have little interest in disturbing the status quo, and as previously noted, may ignore the pertinent science as well as the pleas of scientists. (322, 323)
In the Okaloosa County School District, for example, where high schools begin as early as 7 a.m., physicians’ extended efforts have been unsuccessful in persuading the school board to consider later start times. In a November 14, 2011 presentation to the board, joined by Doctors Lynn Keefe and Deb Simkin, Dr. Eleanor McCain asked, “Why am I still here talking to you about this problem? The only conclusion I can (draw) is that you don’t believe the medical data.” (Tammen, Area doctors press for later start for high schools (Nov. 15, 2011) NewsHerald.) Dr. McCain noted it has historically been difficult for society to accept new knowledge that challenges traditional beliefs, but the changes, once made, have always been for the better. (Ibid.) “Worldview and beliefs do evolve over time as our knowledge expands.” (Ibid.)
To illustrate the point, Dr. Simkin, a local psychiatrist, touched on all the innovations in science that have allowed doctors and scientists to study the human brain and how it works. (Ibid.) Dr. Simkin explained that research has shown, time and time again, that most teenagers cannot get enough sleep with early school start times because their bodies typically don’t allow them to go to bed earlier than 10:30 p.m. (Ibid.) Early start times contribute to a whole host of preventable physical and mental problems from obesity to depression to substance abuse problems. (Ibid.) Simkin noted medications exist to correct all these problems, but an easier and healthier remedy exists. (Ibid.) “The only way to fix the problem, whether you go to sleep earlier or not, is to have later start times.” (Ibid.)
Administrators persuaded by the science may nonetheless find the issue of delaying start times politically untenable. (58) Changing times may be the subject of some acrimony, with parents and coaches often vehemently opposed. (24, 564) In some districts, superintendents and board members pressing for the change have been replaced by those opposing it. (551) Thus, the initiative to adjust start times may be undertaken by legislators, (50) or by community constituents such as parents, (564.5) physicians, (10) PTA’s, (565) voters’ groups, (566, 567) or by the students themselves (see, e.g., Appendix, Student Advocacy, infra), rather than by school leaders. (58, 293)
There is, however, no mechanism presently available forcing “educators” to follow the science. The available evidence would suggest that for most district superintendents, adolescent sleep sufficiency is not a pertinent scheduling consideration, (12) yet most school board members look to the superintendent for leadership direction. (567.1) “School boards are looking for God — on a good day.” (567.2)
Beginning in the 1870’s, school boards began moving from serving individual schools to serving entire school districts. (567.3) In 1910, one-room school districts numbered more than 200,000. (299) By 2008-2009, the number of school districts in this country had fallen to 13,809. (567.1) The decline was almost entirely accounted for by the consolidation of one-room, parent-managed, rural schools into larger school districts. (299, see, Ravitch, A Primer on America’s Schools (Terry Moe, edit., 2001, Hoover Inst. Press Publication) p. 7.)
School boards today may be charged with managing instructional curricula, operational logistics for thousands of students in dozens of schools, and every aspect of a district’s often complex, multi-million dollar business affairs. Despite the breadth and scope of the charge, school board members, generally voted in by the community at large, qualify for office based upon residency, not knowledge or expertise. (567.1) Board members may be required to fulfill de minimis continuing education requirements, (567.4) but they are not subject to licensing standards. While the National School Boards Association would likely disagree, Chester Finn, senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, believes local control of education has outlived its usefulness.
“None of the civic reformers who dreamed up public education’s governance system in the late 19th century pictured such a creature. What we have today in the local school board, especially the elected kind, is an anachronism and an outrage. A dinosaur indeed. We can no longer pretend it’s working well or hide behind the mantra of ‘local control of education.’ We need to steel ourselves to put this dysfunctional arrangement out of its misery and move on to something that will work for children.” (567.5; see, n. 567.1, pp. 6-7.)
School scheduling directives from legal or legislative sources, however, appear to be no more forthcoming than effective school leadership. “[A]sking policy makers to bring coherence and stability to education policy at the state and local level is akin to trying to change the laws of gravity.” (567.6) Apart from ongoing efforts in Massachusetts, (568) Maryland, (568.4) Tennessee, (568.5) Virginia, (568.6) and Florida, (568.7) thus far, every legislative attempt to address later start times has failed at both the state (e.g., Nevada, (568.7) Connecticut, (569, 570) Minnesota) (571) and federal levels. (50, 572, 573, 574) Although mounting evidence associating early school start times with increased automobile accidents among adolescents (31, 46, 315, 420) may provide Congress with authority under the Commerce Clause to intercede in school scheduling, federal intervention seems highly unlikely for several reasons.
First, educational authority, not having been granted to Congress (U.S. Const., 10th Am.), is reserved to the states. (20 U.S.C. § 3401, subd. (4).) “By and large, public education in our Nation is committed to the control of state and local authorities.” (Epperson v. Arkansas (1968) 393 U.S. 97, 104.) Second, the current political environment is “awful[.]” (Mann & Ornstein, It’s Even Worse Than It Looks (Basic Books 2012) p. 201.) Third, the House of Representatives has thus far declined to: (a) offer even its “sense” that secondary schools should begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m. (572) or 9 a.m.; (50, 573) or, (b) agree that schools transitioning to a 9 a.m. start time should receive $25,000 in federal grants to help cover any administrative costs. (184, 574) The U.S. Senate, while rather vocal about many issues in education, has been silent on this subject. Finally, no controversy involving start times has been brought before any judicial officer. “Courts do not and cannot intervene in the resolution of conflicts which arise in the daily operation of school systems and which do not directly and sharply implicate basic constitutional values.” (Epperson v. Arkansas, supra, 393 U.S. at p. 104.)
The U.S. Secretary of Education has recently signaled support for later school scheduling, (574.5, 574.6) noting too many school systems are designed to be good for buses rather than children, (574.6) but the matter is beyond his control. (20 U.S.C. § 3401, subd. (4).) In the absence of laws, courts, or sanctioning bodies to compel healthy start times, the hour when school begins will be determined by the whims of local school boards. (See, Bd. of Educ. v. Pico (1982) 457 U.S. 853, 863 [“… local school boards have broad discretion in the management of school affairs”].) While the sagacity of at least one literary giant suggests little cause to be sanguine that school boards will apply reason to school scheduling, (567.5) as bases for making the change, proponents can point to overwhelming scientific evidence, the uniform support of sleep scientists, (2, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 23, 26, 30, 52, 63, 103, 315, 317, 352, 423, 523, 567) and significant economic benefits for the district and its students. (24, 44, 49, 354) Despite this, Wahlstrom cautions:
“[C]hanging a school’s starting time provokes the same kind of emotional reaction from stakeholders as closing a school or changing a school’s attendance area. A school’s starting time sets the rhythm of the day for teachers, parents, students, and members of the community at large. The impact of changing that starting time is felt individually, and the individuals who are affected need to have their views heard and legitimized so that the discussion can move forward in search of common ground. [¶] High school starting time is a seemingly simple issue with prickly political dimensions, and there is no single solution that will fit all districts. Only through open discussion of their concerns can stakeholders develop a shared understanding of the facts that will lead to a reasonable—but purely local—decision.” (58) “Incorrect assumptions, the use of only partial facts, and hasty implementation are frequent reasons that cause the defeat or demise of a local decision to change the start time.” (293)
Brazilian researchers share this perspective. “[A]pparently simple modifications such as delaying the beginning of morning classes … involves the participation of the whole community—parents, teachers, and transport service providers—and should be discussed and planned before implementation.” (575) In 1999, psychologist Gordon Wrobel distilled seven points to be addressed by administrators when presiding over a start time change: (1) inform and involve all stakeholders; (2) allow ample time [between informing stakeholders of the decision and implementing the new times]; (3) provide justifications for decisions based on research data; (4) support families in the decision process; (5) involve the community; (6) don’t forget school staff; and, (7) commit to providing follow-up regarding the change. (576)
More recently, Phyllis Payne, M.P.H., co-founder of Start Later for Excellence in Education Proposal (SLEEP), addressed the nuts and bolts involved in making a start time change, noting that in some districts zero periods have been added to increase scheduling flexibility. (577) Although “zero hour classes negate for participants the beneficial effects of a later school starting time[,]” (58) Payne has found that zero periods may be utilized for a number of purposes, including, “remediation, enrichment, teacher conference periods, testing, or to provide additional options for students with specialized curricular needs[.]” (577) In addition, after-school remediation may be replaced with during school (e.g., lunch) or before school help. (577) With respect to meeting the needs of student-athletes, Payne found, inter alia, that that some districts schedule PE classes for athletes at the end of the day, “releasing them early to go to competitions/games.” (577) Athletes can save additional time by taping up on the bus ride to the competition, etc. (577) Overall, implementing later start times may require focusing on meeting the needs of the largest number of students first, while attempting to resolve other scheduling conflicts, recognizing that the new schedule may not meet the needs of all students, at least not all year long. (577)
Many districts charge ad hoc committees with the task of determining whether a start time change may be worthwhile, or, if such a determination has already been made, with the task of developing plans to implement the change. (See, Appendix, infra, Schools Recently Delaying Start Times, etc.) Such undertakings, however, hardly ensure positive outcomes, as children’s interests may yet yield to political considerations (e.g., parental disapproval, teachers’ preferences), administrative ineptitude, perceived cost (transportation) excesses, perceived scheduling conflicts (e.g. with athletics, extracurricular activities), etc. (See, id., Temecula Valley Unified School District, Cal., Northampton Public Schools, Mass., Rochester School Department, N.H., Rootstown School District, Ohio, Derry Township School District, Pa.; see also, ns. 12, 58.) The “health and alertness of students” tend to be overshadowed by “bureaucratic priorities.” (Terman & McMahan, Chronotherapy: Resetting Your Inner Clock to Boost Mood, Alertness, and Quality Sleep (Penguin Group 2012) p. 216.)
The Connecticut League of Women Voters utilizes the services of a “school start time change specialist” to assist communities in making the change. (564) The state league embraces efforts to change school start times because it sees the change as “a way to improve communities that is both nonpartisan and research-based.” (564) In early 2007, Professor Wolfson noted the National Sleep Foundation’s informal data put the number of districts implementing later start times at 80, with 140 considering. (22) Since then, and for several years now, the National Sleep Foundation has reported that “individual schools or districts in 19 states have pushed back their start times, and more than 100 school districts in an additional 17 states are considering delaying their start times.” (578) In August of 2012, Kyla Wahlstrom reported that “more than 250 schools throughout the country have changed to a later school start time.” (322)
While some urge these reports show that “a small but growing number of school districts have undertaken initiatives to delay start times and systematically examine the impact on students[,]” (107) a clear view of incremental start time changes may be difficult to obtain. (See, Wolfson & Richards, Young Adolescents: Struggles with Insufficient Sleep, publish. in, Sleep and Development (Oxford Univ. Press., El Sheikh edit. 2011) p. 275 [noting need for “empirically based monitoring and reporting system” to track start time changes; reported delays in start times may be as short as 7:15 a.m. to 7:30 a.m. versus 8 a.m. to 9 a.m.].) As previously discussed (see, § III, supra), data from the National Center for Education Statistics reflect that from 2007-2008 to 2011-2012, the average start time for U.S. junior and senior high schools advanced by one minute to 7:59 a.m. (20.5, 291)
Notwithstanding the often complex and challenging scope of the task, St. George’s School headmaster Eric Peterson, J.D., contends that finding ways to adjust start times is the “job of talented, smart school administrators.” (563) Chris Belcher, superintendent of Columbia Public Schools, puts it this way: “My whole position on this, and I hope people get this, is we should design our high schools around our students. We shouldn’t make our students come in and do their schedule around adults.” (579) Mel Riddile, Ed.D, Associate Director for High School Services at the National Association of Secondary School Principals, Virginia (2005) and National Principal of the Year (2006), has little patience for school administrators adhering to early secondary school scheduling.
“You know a school or a school district is in trouble when the strategic plan follows the principles of the ABC School of Management–Administration By Convenience. One of the best indicators of an adult-focused environment, one that is practicing the principles of ABC, is when research is blatantly ignored in favor of current practice.” (60)
If Dr. Riddile is correct, the available data would suggest “Administration By Convenience“ prevails among U.S. school districts as the current strategic plan. (20.5)
“It’s a bad plan that admits of no modification.”—Publilius Syrus, Roman slave and poet.