- As more states and districts across the country debate whether to push back school start times, particularly for high school students, a recent study finds that allowing teens to sleep in a little longer has positive effects on behavior and academic achievement for poor and minority students.
- Analyzing data from more than 400 North Carolina high schools, Kevin Bastian and Sarah Fuller of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, found that students attending schools that start at 8:30 a.m. or later were less likely to be suspended.
- Later start times were also associated with slightly higher first period course grades for all students and with higher overall GPAs and algebra 1 scores for disadvantaged students. The researchers, however, did not find any significant positive effects on attendance, except that students from more-affluent families missed more days when start times were pushed back — a puzzling finding showing the need for more research, the authors write.
When California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill this fall that would have kept the state’s middle and high schools from starting before 8:30 a.m., he said it was because he thought such decisions should be made at the local level. But that’s also where most of the research on the topic has been conducted, Bastian and Fuller write, noting that the results of small-scale studies on a particular district that has adjusted start times can’t be generalized to larger numbers of schools.
“Moving forward, we believe that educational researchers need to catch up to the momentum behind delayed school start times and conduct a host of studies to support evidence-based school start time decisions,” they write. In addition to collecting data, they said, researchers also need to gather feedback from parents, students, school personnel and others affected by changing start times.
They also acknowledge that moving start times back for older students can mean earlier start times for younger students and impacts to transportation routes. But advocacy groups, such as Start School Later and the American Academy of Pediatrics stress that the benefits would outweigh any negatives. Another recent study conducted in Canada shows that pushing start times back just 10 minutes can help teens get at least 20 more minutes of sleep a night.