Groundbreaking work that began in Minnesota in the 1990s routinely shows positive results for high school students who start school later in the morning. This relates directly to adolescent biology around Circadian rhythms and the timing of Melatonin production. Here are categories where differences have been studied following later start times:
1. Grades – (hard data and surveys) Analysis does not show statistically significant grade improvements, but students consistently report that they are getting better grades.
2. Tiredness – (surveys) Both students and teachers report a decrease in student tiredness during first and second period classes. This is reported by both parties as lower incidences of students falling asleep at their desks! Students also report that they have greater clarity of thought and get through their class- and home-work more quickly.
3. Irritability and stress – (surveys) Students report notably lower irritability and stress.
4. Sleep duration – (surveys and data) Students get more sleep when classes start later, as they generally go to bed at the same time as before but sleep longer. In some surveys they report going to sleep earlier since they complete their work in less time.
5. Car accidents – (hard data) Students in districts with later start times have a lower rate of car accidents!
Communities that have considered and rejected later school starting times for high schoolers generally attribute this to broader context issues within the community associated with later start times. These issues include higher bus transportation costs if scheduling cannot be cleanly worked out, exacerbated student/commuter travel congestion, less time for after-school activities and sports, day care conflicts when high schoolers are no longer home before their younger siblings and are not available to care for them, and others. These issues are community and situational specific, and some may have resonance in a community like Newton while others may not.
I strongly support the concept of later start times for high schoolers but will advocate for an assessment of the Newton community context issues before making start time changes. It matters that we understand and accept the impacts that later start times have on both students and the greater community, prior to implementing a new start time plan.