Now that the idea of later start times for New Jersey’s middle and high schools has been signed into law, the Christie administration has begun looking more closely into testing the concept and is asking the districts what they think of the idea.
The chief author of the bill said he hopes the state will also ask those most affected: the students themselves.
“Sounds like they may not be hearing from those who would benefit the most,” said state Sen. Richard Codey (D-Essex), the former governor who pressed the bill enacted and signed by Gov. Chris Christie last year.
The measure requires that the Department of Education conduct of a study of later start times, especially for high schools, with the intent of running a pilot test at a few schools to see what impact it may have.
Codey and co-sponsor state Sen. Shirley Turner (D-Mercer) have long argued in favor of later start times. They were bolstered by a recent national study from the American Academy of Pediatrics that said sleep deprivation among middle- and high-school students had a negative effect on learning and achievement.
In response, the department set up a small task force comprising educators and experts, which held its first meeting in March. Members include all the state’s main education groups, as well as school psychologists, nurses, and parents.
It sent out a three-page survey last week to district superintendents and school principals.
The questionnaire specifically asks if any middle or high schools start after 8:30 a.m., and what experiences they have had with that start time.
With the backing of the American Academy of Pediatrics study, Codey has said even moving start times to 8:45 would be a great benefit for schools and students. They can now start as early as 7:00 or 7:30.
The survey goes on to ask the impact at those schools of later starts from student alertness and academic performance to scheduling problems with after-school sports and other activities.
Finally, the questionnaire asks if the districts think the state should test the idea of later start times at those schools that are willing to participate.
“While there are national research studies on this issue, like from the American Academy of Pediatrics, we do not have much research information from New Jersey’s schools about this,” said David Saenz, a spokesman for the department.
“So, as part of our information-gathering process for the study, we sent the survey to districts,” he said in an email. “The study is still ongoing, but we hope to have more information in the coming months.”
Codey said he had hoped the study would have moved a little faster — his bill sets no deadlines on the recommendations — but he was pleased the survey was finally underway.
“I anxiously await the final product,” he said. ‘Let’s see how administrators react, how parents react.
“Unfortunately, everyone reacts in their own best interests and what’s best for them, rather than what’s best for the kids,” Codey said. “We have to keep that in mind.”