Students don’t perform well when they’re half asleep. That was the basic message from Education Secretary Arne Duncan last week during a radio broadcast interview.
Duncan suggested that a later start to the school day could help students – teenagers in particular – get more from their time in class. He was careful to note that the federal government has no intention of mandating school start times; that still would be up to local school districts.
But Duncan, who served in the trenches as superintendent of Chicago’s public schools, pointed out that considerable research indicates that most teens are not at their sharpest early in the morning. Morning drowsiness also contributes to absenteeism, tardiness, depression, dropout rates, auto accidents, even obesity, according to researchers.
We realize that moving opening bell up an hour would cause all sorts of conflicts with school scheduling and after-school activities. Nonetheless, we think school districts should try to come up with ways to allow students to sleep a little longer.
Doctors advise students to get between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep a night. But we can imagine students’ response to that: “Yeah, right!”
Studies show that most students only seven hours or less a night. And that means they are likely to pay the price the next day.
Teens often have after-school activities, including sports and clubs. Some have jobs. And many nights they are up late studying, watching TV or using social media.
Packing all that activity into the day can be difficult. And often it is classroom performance that suffers.
It’s easy to say, go to bed an hour early. But natural biological rhythms tend to keep students up later.
Some high school students rise as early as 6 a.m., catch a bus around 7 a.m. and are at school by 8 a.m. But they aren’t necessarily wide awake and ready to learn.
We understand the difficulty of starting school an hour later. It would affect the entire daily schedule, not only during the school day itself but also after school.
One solution might be to add extra days to the school calendar to make up for time lost to starting school an hour later.
Valid research suggests that much of the first period for high school students may be wasted on tired brains. Instead of trying to make bleary-eyed students adjust to early-bird schedules, maybe the schedules should be adjusted to them.