In recent years, school start times have become the subject of heavy debate. While some people believe that schools should keep their current start times to allow students more time for leisure and extracurricular activities, others argue that schools should start later in order to give students ample time to get a healthy amount of sleep so that they can be prepared to partake in classes the next day and learn properly without being somnolent in the morning.
Proponents of later start times maintain that allowing students more time to sleep in would result in improved academic performance and enhanced learning skills. Oxford sleep researcher Paul Kelly claims that “children between the ages of eight and 10 should start school no earlier than 8:30 a.m., 16-year-olds should start at or after 10 a.m., and 18-year-olds at 11 a.m, or later.” As many high school students and middle schoolers have multiple after-school commitments, including school sports and clubs, they often are too busy or too tired to complete their homework, the amount of which seems to continuously accumulate as they become older. Such obligations render students regularly sleep-deprived, causing each school day to become increasingly difficult throughout the week. Arguably, even a few extra hours of sleep would drastically benefit them later on in the school day.
A less progressive group argues for the continuation of current school start times, citing that students need more time in the afternoon for their clubs, sports, and homework. Freelance writer Leight Ann Morgan explains that “[s]ome students, parents, and administrators are concerned about later school start times because of the possible impact on extracurricular activities. Students who participate in sports, music groups, service learning clubs, and other organizations typically meet for several hours after school.” Moreover, a later start time could affect the way students get to school, especially for those whose parents have to leave for work early in the morning; if students were previously driven to school, they would possibly have to walk or take the bus if the start time were to be delayed. For younger students especially, it would also mean that they would have to start preparing for school by themselves, which could prove challenging.
As for the opinions of educators, a survey on later school start times by the Montgomery County school district found that of nearly 6,000 teachers who participated, “63 percent said they favor not changing high school bell times.” Although parents and health experts have been lobbying for later school start times, many teachers oppose changing school start times for the following reasons: concern over how it would affect low-income families, as teens in these families might have to work a job or take care of their younger siblings, as well as potential challenges with balancing extracurricular activities and homework. Still, even among teachers, the topic of start times is surrounded by controversy. One CHS teacher gives her opinion: “While I am not 100% certain on what the research says on the effects of a delayed start time for students, students spend so much time outside of school on sports and homework; where is their time for rest if they have to be up at 7 am for school the next day?” Her question also brings into account the fact that some people have to wake up earlier; administrators do not take into consideration that certain students need to be in class earlier than others; this does not provide a fair environment for everyone to learn in.
A study conducted on 280 high schoolers demonstrates that the majority of students think that they would benefit from a delayed start time. According to the results, “90% of students thought their academic performance would improve if schools were to start later than the present 7:30 a.m. starting time. Seventy-eight percent of students said it was difficult to get up in the morning; 16% said they regularly had enough sleep; 70% thought their grades would improve if they had more sleep.”
The topic of whether or not schools should change their start times is one complex and without a definitive answer. Even among teachers, students, and parents, there seems to be no clear consensus. There is no simple way out of this dilemma, as there are many different opposing views. In the meantime, it is important for all groups to be able to understand both perspectives.
Recently in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that moved school start times to 8:30 AM. This will not be the case for most states.