Can Starting School Later Benefit Student Learning?

Leesville students are arriving at school by carpool for the 7:25 a.m. start, which studies show is too early for students to start school. Due to recent research, Durham Public high schools now start 9 a.m to allow students to get the proper amount of sleep to function well. (Photo courtesy of Ashley Tysiac.)

Over the past few years, researchers have found scientific proof high schools should start later.

According to the National Sleep Foundation, teens need anywhere from eight and a half to 9 and one fourth hours of sleep each night. This amount of sleep is needed for the teenage body to function best during the day.

However, studies have shown that as few as 15% of students have reported receiving at least eight and a half hours of sleep on school nights.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this lack of sleep can be blamed on early school start times. The group said that starting school early can prevent students from getting the sleep they need to be healthy, safe, and academically successful.

Using these studies, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report in 2015, encouraging middle schools and high schools to start later. The report states that schools need to start at 8:30 a.m. or later to allow students to get the recommended eight and a half hours of sleep each night.

As a result of this research, many school districts across the country have gradually changed school schedules, including Durham Public Schools. The school system shifted school times to allow teenagers to get the sleep needed to function properly. Instead of having high school start the earliest, elementary students now arrive at school earlier.

High schools start at 9:00 a.m. and end at 4:00 p.m. Some of the high schools affected by the change include Hillside High School, Durham School of the Arts, Jordan High School, Riverside High School, and Northern High School.

Sophie Vollmer, a junior at Durham School of the Arts, said that she likes how the new schedule allows her to accomplish more in the morning, giving her extra time to do things in the afternoon.

“I like that I can go to cross country practice before school,” said Vollmer, who runs at her high school. “Then after school, I have plenty of time to do homework.”

However, she did admit that the later school end time can sometimes make it difficult for her parents to pick her up after school.

Dr. William Logan, principal of Hillside High School, said that it is too early to tell if the later school start has positively affected student learning, but he feels that not everyone in the Hillside community likes the change. “I believe we have mixed sentiments about it,” said Logan via email. “Most like the later start time but many are not happy about the later end time.”

While Durham Public Schools has taken action regarding helping give teenagers the ability to get more sleep, Wake County Public Schools has done nothing of the sort.

The Wake County Public School System (WCPSS) is the 16th largest public school district in the United States and had an average daily enrollment of 157,800 students for the 2015-16 school year. The school district has 171 schools with 18,950 total employees.

WCPSS takes pride in using research to develop new ways to help benefit student learning. According to their Strategic Plan: Vision 2020, Wake County believes in practicing effective plans to support an innovative environment that “results in a high-performing organization focused on student achievement.”

During the 2015-16 school year, WCPSS had a combination of about 176,130 students and staff throughout the county. Considering WCPSS encompasses a larger amount of students and staff, they have to create plans such as Vision 2020 to determine what is best for everyone to create a good educational environment for students.

If Wake County believes in this vision, then why isn’t it using research on sleep and school start times to help promote enhanced student learning? The district likes to use data to draw up new plans to benefit students, but why hasn’t the school board used the research to take action?

Connie Barrow, a math teacher at Leesville, said she thinks Wake County should consider pushing back school start times.

“The research shows it’s better for students,” said Barrow. “Our job as educators is to do what’s best for students.”

Pushing back the schedule can cause problems concerning athletics. As a student teacher, Barrow taught at Chapel Hill High School, a school with a later start time, and said that it was difficult for students to participate in athletic events without having their normal school day disrupted.

“Even for home games, students got out of class early because none of the other schools in the area started that late,” said Barrow. She believes that to make a start time change work, WCPSS would have to do some very specific scheduling.

Connor Bardin, a sophomore at Leesville, also thinks that pushing back school schedules could lead to difficulties for students in the afternoons. “Some people have athletics and work and [changing the schedule] would create a lot of stress,” said Bardin.

It is uncertain whether or not Wake County will change school schedules in the future. It will be interesting to see the results from the Durham Public Schools start time experiment at the end of the 2016-17 school year to see if the change did, in fact, benefit student learning. If the results are positive, that may influence Wake County to consider making a change.


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