As a new school year kicks off, students across the country are readjusting to early-morning start times.
I’ve been out of high school for nearly 15 years and I can still vividly remember the daily struggle of pulling myself out of bed to go to school. Despite three alarms and my mother’s persistent efforts, it never seemed to get any easier.
A growing body of research suggests students’ early-morning struggles have a real basis in science.
Now, school districts across the country are considering the merits of later school start times. While sleep and education experts extol the potential academic benefits of later start times, other groups, including some parents, contend proposed schedule changes will have a negative impact on student activities and family life outside of school.
A study last year from the National Sleep Foundation found that teens need at least nine hours of sleep to achieve optimal mental performance during the school day. Similar studies have found that later school start times may correspond with higher academic achievement.
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California State Sen. Anthony Portantino says more than 400 districts have experimented with later start times and many have reported increased academic performance and safer learning environments.
In July, Portantino sponsored a bill that would bar all K12 schools in the state from starting earlier than 8:30 a.m., as CBS Los Angeles reports.
Taking a second look
Despite increasing support for later school start times, a new study finds that parents are split on the idea.
A recent study out of the University of Michigan finds that 51 percent of parents support later school start times, according to Science Daily. Two factors for parents who opposed the change were transportation and concerns about how after-school activities might be affected.
The study also found that opposition to later school start times among parents was partially attributable to a misunderstanding about the amount of sleep students need. While many parents said that their students could function well with seven or less hours of sleep, scientific research contradicts such assertions.
As University of Michigan researcher Galit Dunietz tells Science Daily:
“We found that parents underestimated how much sleep their children needed, and only about half agreed with existing recommendations that school start times should be later.”
Is your school or district considering later school start times this year? What steps are you taking to engage parents and other community members in these decisions? Tell us in the comments.