CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

National News

September 4, 2013

NATION: Education chief: Maybe start school later in day

WASHINGTON — A later start to the school day could help teenagers get the most from their classroom time and local districts should consider delaying the first bell, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday.

School districts would still be free to set their own start times, Duncan insisted in a broadcast interview, but he pointed to research that backs up his comments that rested students are ready students. Duncan said he would not be telling local school leaders when their first bells should ring and said it was up to local leaders to make the decisions on their own.

“There’s lots of research and common sense that lots of teens struggle to get up ... to get on the bus,” said Duncan, the former chief of Chicago Public Schools.

The main reason?

“Teen brains have a different biology,” said Kyla Wahlstrom, director at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Education Improvement.

For the last 17 years, Wahlstrom has studied teenagers’ sleep cycles, brains and learning. She has concluded that schools that want ready students must have students arrive rested. Absenteeism, tardiness, depression, obesity, drop-out rates and even auto accidents all decline when students head to school after a good night of sleep.

Schools are starting to take notice.

Take, for instance, Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools.

Most medical professionals recommend between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep for students. The Fairfax district surveyed students in grades 8, 10 and 12 and found two-thirds of them were sleeping seven hours or less each school night. Among high school seniors, 84 percent routinely slept less than seven hours each night during the 2011 survey.

That prompted the school district, the 11th largest in the country, to partner with the Children’s National Medical Center’s Division of Sleep Medicine to study student’s nighttime habits this year and to consider pushing its start time to 8 a.m. or later in coming years.

“Teens have a different body clock,” said Terra Ziporyn Snider, the co-founder of Start School Later, a grassroots advocacy group that has pushed schools for delayed bells. “You don’t run schools at a time when kids aren’t ready to learn.”

There isn’t an easy fix.

Bus schedules have been a driving factor in recent decades for when schools start their days, as are after-school jobs for teenagers, extracurricular activities and interscholastic sports. The challenge of transporting students to these activities — as well as classes — often is cited as a reason high school days begin at dawn and end mid-afternoon.

“So often, we design school systems that work for adults and not for kids,” Duncan told NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show.”

Research backs up Duncan’s worries about student sleep patterns and academic achievement.

“Children who sleep poorly are doing more poorly on academic performance,” said Joseph Buckhalt, a distinguished professor at Auburn University’s College of Education.

He has been tracking sleeping patterns of 250 children as well as their IQ tests, performance on standardized tests, their grades and behavior. His findings suggest sleep is just as important to student achievement as diet and exercise.

“All the data that we’ve seen on sleep shows that children, especially teenagers, are sleeping less,” he said. “If you don’t sleep well, you don’t think very well.”

Part of the lack of sleep is biological as teenagers go through puberty, Buckhalt said. But afterschool programs such as sports or clubs, as well as increased pressure for students to perform well academically, keep them up later than is prudent. Add in caffeine, non-step social interactions through text messages and Facebook and sometimes less-than-ideal home environments, and students have steep challenges.

For students from less affluent families, the effects can be compounded, Buckhalt found.

“Fifty years ago we learned that hungry kids don’t do well in school. Now we know that sleepy children don’t do well in school,” Buckhalt said. “Now we have to do something about it.”

That doesn’t mean all schools are rushing to delay the first period for high school students.

“If any issue cries for local decision making, this is one,” said Patte Barth, director for the Center for Public Education at the National School Boards Association.

The professional organization has not taken a position on the ideal time to start schools, but Barth said Duncan is correct. “Teenagers are much more alert later in the day rather than earlier,” she said.

In schools where the day starts later, there have been immediate gains, she said.

“Some districts have made these adjustments to the school day and they have found among their teenagers that attendance is better, kids aren’t falling asleep,” she said.

But it comes at a cost for other students, both in terms of dollars and opportunities because schools are operating with limited resources.

“If you’re starting the high school kids later, you’re starting elementary kids earlier. No one wants those kids out on the streets when it’s dark,” she said. “If they’re contemplating this switch, they need to look at the costs.”

But some districts have made it work with few disruptions.

“It’s not about costs. It’s about fear of change and failure of imagination,” Snider said.

Wahlstrom, the former school principal-turned-researcher, said President Barack Obama is living this every day with his daughters, ages 12 and 15.

“If they are getting out of bed before 8 a.m., the biology says they are not ready,” she said. “It hits home as high up as the White House.”

1
Text Only
National News
  • Fort Hood (UPDATED) Officials: 4 dead, including gunman, at Fort Hood

    A gunman opened fire Wednesday at Fort Hood in an attack that left four dead, including the shooter, law enforcement officials said.
    One of the officials, citing official internal U.S. Justice Department updates, said 14 others were hurt. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to release information by name.

    April 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • mfp file Hoffner Fired coach unjustly accused of visiting porn sites

    The president of Minnesota State University-Mankato accused a football coach of looking at Internet porn on a work computer before firing him, an arbitrator has revealed. The official said the claim could not be supported, and the coach shouldn't have been fired.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • High School Stabbings 4 students seriously hurt in Pa. school stabbings

    A student armed with a knife went on a stabbing and slashing spree at a high school near Pittsburgh on Wednesday morning, leaving as many as 20 people injured, including four students who suffered serious wounds, authorities said.

    April 9, 2014 2 Photos

  • Obit Ultimate Warrior Former pro wrestler Ultimate Warrior dies at 54

    James Hellwig, better known as former pro wrestler The Ultimate Warrior, has died, the WWE said. He was 54.

    April 9, 2014 1 Photo

  • news_amazonfiretv.jpg Amazon introduces Fire TV to challenge Apple in living rooms

    Amazon.com Chief Executive Officer Jeff Bezos is stepping up efforts to win over customers in their living rooms with a $99 TV box for watching digitally delivered shows and movies, challenging Apple's TV device.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Washington Mudslide Death toll in Washington mudslide rises to 30

    As medical examiners painstakingly piece together the identities and lives of the 30 people known killed when a mudslide wiped out a small Washington community, one mystery troubles them.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • APTOPIX Fort Hood Fort Hood gunman sought mental health treatment

    An Iraq War veteran being treated for mental illness was the gunman who opened fire at Fort Hood, killing three people and wounding 16 others before committing suicide, in an attack on the same Texas military base where more than a dozen people were slain in 2009, authorities said.

    April 3, 2014 1 Photo

  • Supreme Court Campaign Big donors may give even more under court’s ruling

    The Supreme Court ruling Wednesday erasing a long-standing limit on campaign donations will allow a small number of very wealthy donors to give even more than is currently the case, according to students of the complex campaign finance system, and could strengthen the establishment in both parties.

    April 2, 2014 1 Photo

  • Former McDonald's store managers say they withheld employees' wages

    Two former McDonald's store managers, assisting with a campaign to raise pay for fast-food workers, said they helped withhold employees' wages at the restaurant chain after facing pressure to keep labor costs down.

    April 2, 2014

  • Fact Checker: 'Birth control' for something other than family planning?

    "When 99 percent of women used birth control in their lifetime and 60 percent use it for something other than family planning, it's outrageous and I think the Supreme Court will suggest that their case is ridiculous."

    April 1, 2014