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September 17, 2013 at 6:01 AM
Here’s a school improvement idea: Let teens sleep in
A sign that fall is growing near is that it’s staying dark longer in the mornings. Driving recently to meet teachers and students, I felt renewed sympathy for the teenagers I passed trudging half-asleep to their bus stop. Some walk to school.
The BBC, citing Oxford University experts, says half of all British teenagers are sleep-deprived. A similar narrative fits American teens.
Research suggests teenagers need nine hours of sleep to function the next day. But natural hormone changes and
technology such as social media and texting means only about 8 percent of them are getting it, according to the National Sleep Foundation.
Start School Later Inc., bills itself as a national coalition of “health professionals, sleep scientists, educators, parents, students, and other concerned citizens” who believe better school hours could improve student health, safety, equity and learning. The group says starting high school classes at 9 or 9:30 a.m. would help students stay awake, improve memory consolidation and reduce absenteeism and tardies. Ongoing petitions in school districts around the country are here.
It is a tough call. Changing school start times can impact bus transportation along the elementary, middle and high school continuum. After-school activity schedules would be pushed later as well. There would be challenges as well for teens who work.
But an informal KING 5 poll showed a majority of parents, 53 percent, support later start times. But 44 percent of the 943 respondents said kids should simply go to bed earlier. In that same KING story, the Seattle Public Schools promised to survey parents district-wide to gauge interest in adjusting school start times for the 2014-2015 school year. And the Washington state PTA passed a resolution last year supporting healthy school start times. The quote below sums up this issue for me.
“Given that the primary focus of education is to maximize human potential, then a new task before us is to ensure that the conditions in which learning takes place address the very biology of our learners,” says Mary A. Carskadon, director of E.P. Bradley Hospital Research Laboratory and professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior at Brown University School of Medicine.