Instructional Improvement Council: Later Start Proposal – Background
Ted Barone, Ed.D. - Principal, Albany High School
The Instructional Improvement Council (IIC) of Albany High School is considering a change in the start time for the school day from the current 7:40 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. for the 2013-14 school year. The issue emerged from the Challenge Success committee in 2011-12. That committee, which included parents, students, teachers, counselors, and school administration, established two priorities for reducing student stress and improving academic achievement – delaying the daily school start time; and developing a policy to improve homework quality and relevance.
The IIC considered the start time issue during the Fall, 2012 semester and examined research on such issues as adolescent physiological implications, and the impact of a later start on academic achievement, student behavior, attendance rates, and health. The IIC also received reports on potential implications from the Athletic Department and the Music Department. At the December meeting, it was agreed that the evidence supporting such a change was compelling enough to bring a proposal forth to the Albany High School community for public input.
This document synthesizes the available research on the topic. It is designed to provide a knowledge-base for public input through the shared governance committees at AHS including the Site Council, Promoting Albany High Sports (PAHS), Department Chair Council, General Faculty Meeting, PTSA, and the Associated Student Body (ASB). Each committee will discuss the issue and provide feedback. Resource articles for more in-depth reading are attached to this article. More will be added as they become available. In addition, we will schedule an evening forum on the topic in early February as an opportunity for more input. The IIC will gather the input from all sources and make a recommendation about the proposal. If the recommendation is to change the start time, the proposal will be forwarded to the Superintendent and the Board for their consideration.
A large body of empirical research has found that the onset of puberty brings about a significant delay in individual sleep/wake cycles. This phenomenon is called Delayed Phase Preference (DPP). In other words, the natural circadian rhythm of teenagers is to go to sleep later and wake up later (Kirby, Maggi, & D’Angiulli, 2011; Owens, Belon, & Moss, 2010).
This DPP is a result of a melatonin hormone secretion that begins in puberty. The average adolescent in the U.S. has difficulty falling asleep before 11 pm and needs about 9 hours of sleep, so the ideal wake time is 8 am. However, 80% of adolescents get less than the recommended 9 hours. Therefore, with current school start times at 7:40 am, the typical AHS student is at risk of impairments in mood, attention, memory, behavioral control, quality of life, and academic performance (Owens et al., 2010).
It isn’t enough to simply catch up on weekends. Throughout the week, sleep debt, or cumulative sleep loss, decreases a students’ ability to concentrate, causes memory lapses and difficulties in accomplishing tasks that require planning or a complex sequence of actions, and decreases creative thought (Kirby et al., 2011).
A variety of studies examined the impact of later school start times on academic achievement and other indicators of student well-being. Data from a 6-year study of middle school students in North Carolina found a significant increase in standardized test scores that was correlated with a later start (Edwards, 2012). Both math and reading scores increased 2 percentile points and the effect was even greater for lower performing students. The magnitude of the effect was similar to the difference in scores for one additional year of parent education. It was also similar to the effect of smaller class sizes, although at a much lower cost. The researchers also found that the positive effect was persistent. In other words, the increases in scores that were present in 8th grade were also present at 10th grade. There was no fall off.
An oft-cited study of 7 Minneapolis high schools that changed their start times from 7:15 to 8:40 found similar results (Kirby et al., 2011). Interestingly they found that students used the extra time in the morning for actual sleep, attendance rates went up and there was a reduction in disciplinary problems.
In the Minneapolis study, concerns were raised about the impact of a later start on families where the high school sibling babysits younger siblings after school; impacts on employee schedules; on extracurricular and athletic activities; and on student part-time jobs. The study found that broad consultation of the community about the decision to change the schedule increased buy-in and mitigated the negative impact as families were better prepared to plan, and extracurricular activities were scheduled to start later.
While I was unable to find research that directly connected later school start times with athletic performance, there is a large body of research that illustrates the connection between sleep duration and quality with athletic performance. A particularly informative review of the literature concludes that the procedural memory required for athletic sports is weakened by lack of sleep, with detrimental effects on performance (Walker, Stickgold 2005).
An international study focused on high school programs in New Jersey and Wenzhou, China corroborated the previously described results. This study verified the claim that early start times correlated to poor sleep quality, excessive daytime sleepiness and napping, sleep duration of less than 7 hours, reduced school performance, increased irritability, alertness and health (Xue, 2012).
A multi-year study of Freshmen at the U.S. Air Force Academy found that a group of students randomly assigned to an 8:00 class performed significantly worse in classes throughout the day, as compared to students not assigned to the early class, not just the early morning class (Carrell, 2011).
The only study I found that had contradictory results focused on ACT data from the same Minneapolis study cited above and found no impact of school starting times on achievement (Hinrichs, 2011). The researchers noted that the ACT had participation rates around 60% among high school graduates in Minnesota, thus a large percentage of the student population was not represented, particularly the lower achieving students for whom the positive impact of a later start was found, in other studies, to be the greatest.
The positive implications of a later school start time for Albany High School are well-supported in the research. They include positive impacts on academic achievement, attendance rates, student discipline, health, and safety. While there may be some negative consequences, particularly for scheduling extracurricular activities, most of the issues can be mitigated through careful planning and scheduling.
Carrell, S. (2011). A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Achievement of Adolescents. American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, 3, 62–81.
Edwards, F. (2012). Early to rise? The effect of daily start time on academic performance. Economics of Education Review, 31, 970–983.
Hinrichs, P. (2011). When the Bell Tolls: The Effects of School Starting Times on Academic Achievement. Ecucationan Finance and Policy, 6(4), 486–507.
Kirby, M., Maggi, S., & D’Angiulli, A. (2011). School start times and the sleep-wake cycle of adolescents: a review and critical evaluation of available evidence. Educational Researcher, 40(2), 56–61.
Owens, J., Belon, K., & Moss, P. (2010). Impact of delaying start time on adolescent sleep, mood, and behavior. Archive of Pediatric Adolescent Medicine, 164(7), 608–614.
Walker, M., & Stickgold, R. (2005). It's Practice, with Sleep, that Makes Perfect: Implications for Sleep-Dependent Learning and Plasticity for Skill Performance. Clinics in Sports Medicine 24, 301-317 Xue, M. (2012). Sleep Health Problems in Adolescents. Sleep Disorders and Therapy, 1(4), e111.