Fine Print: Bill Would Study Possible Benefits of Later Start Times for Schools

John Mooney | October 9, 2014 | Education
Sen. Richard Codey to ask for study of school schedules and impact of sleep deprivation on learning

alarm clock
What it is: State Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex) plans to file a bill this week that would demand that the state Department of Education study the impact of school start times in middle schools and high school.

What it means: The bill comes in the wake of an American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) report that cited sleep deprivation among adolescents — in part driven by early start times for schools — as having an negative impact on health and learning.

Codey quote: “Studies are showing that our current school start time system is flipped the wrong way. Middle and high school start times are too early and elementary and pre-K classes are too late.”

“Research from the medical and educational community is showing it is bad for learning and can have negative consequences for the health of adolescents when school start times for teens are before 8:30 a.m., even though many of them are starting at 7:30,” he said.

The findings: According to the AAP report issued in August, a review of more than 18,000 public schools across the country found the average starting time before 8 a.m. It doesn’t lay all the blame on schools, but said such early starts contribute to sleep deprivation that, in turn, is harmful to students and deleterious to learning and achievement. The report recommends start times after 8:30 a.m.

AAP quote: “A substantial body of research has now demonstrated that delaying school start times is an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss and has a wide range of potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety, and academic achievement.”

Optimal sleep: The report said that children in middle and high schools should be getting 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep each night.

Not a new topic: School schedules have long been a point of debate, with a number of studies citing the negative impact of early start times on students who are prone to stay up late. But it has proven a challenging remedy, too, with class schedules tightly timed and afternoons already taken up by sports and other extracurricular activities.

Some movement: More than 1,000 schools nationally have moved back their schedules, Codey said.

Pilot program: The bill would also create a pilot program monitored by the state for selected schools to test out later start times.