Improve attendance with later school start times
Howard County Public Schools’ proactive approach to school attendance is admirable (“Howard schools keep students in class by helping them to overcome challenges,” Sept. 19). Omitted from the article is the negative impact of early school start times on middle and high school attendance. If due to biology and changing sleep patterns, adolescents miss their early morning bus stop, they may not have alternative transportation options to make it to school, missing part or all of the school day.
We’ve analyzed data from the Maryland Report Card on the Maryland State Department of Education’s website. In school systems where there are both early- and late-stating middle and high schools such as Washington and Charles counties, there is a marked difference in chronic absentee rates between early- and later-starting schools. The difference is more dramatic when looking at minority students or those who qualify for free and reduced-price meals. This matches national trends and research that found there is a decrease in tardiness and absenteeism with adjustments to later school start times. Disadvantaged students benefit twice as much as the average student from adjustments in school start times.
Howard County’s students will have even more systematic support to attend school with the school board’s April 28 recommendation to adjust middle and high school start times (currently as early as 7:40 a.m. for middle schools and 7:25 a.m. for high schools), for the 2017-2018 school year. Other Maryland counties should similarly look at moving their middle and high school start times to match adolescent biology and expert recommendations, thereby potentially decreasing their chronic absentee rates.