THOSE EARLY HOURS

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics -

It is a morn­ing rit­ual across much of Amer­ica. Par­ents strug­gle in the gray of dawn to get kids off to school, fa­tigued stu­dents doze at their desks and teach­ers pon­der a weary class as that first bell rings. Should early-bird start times be scuttled at the na­tion’s schools?

It’s com­pli­cated. Over the years, the ma­jor ar­gu­ment against such a move has been the sheer cost of chang­ing stu­dent trans­porta­tion plans to ac­com­mo­date a later start to the school day. New re­search, how­ever, pushes back on the claim with some dol­lar signs.

A new Rand Corp. study shows that de­lay­ing school start times to 8:30 a.m. would con­trib­ute $83 bil­lion to the U.S. econ­omy within a decade, in­creas­ing to $140 bil­lion af­ter 15 years.

More sleep is the key, the re­searchers rea­son. The pro­jected eco­nomic gains would emerge through “higher aca­demic and pro­fes­sional per­for­mance” of stu­dents who are get­ting more shut-eye. Re­duced rates of auto mishaps among more rested ado­les­cent driv­ers is also among the many fac­tors.

“For years we’ve talked about in­ad­e­quate sleep among teenagers be­ing a pub­lic health epidemic, but the eco­nomic im­pli­ca­tions are just as sig­nif­i­cant. From a pol­icy per­spec­tive, the po­ten­tial im­pli­ca­tions of the study are hugely im­por­tant. The sig­nif­i­cant eco­nomic ben­e­fits from sim­ply de­lay­ing school start times to 8.30 a.m. would be felt in a mat­ter of years, mak­ing this a win-win, both in terms of ben­e­fit­ing the pub­lic health of ado­les­cents and do­ing so in a cost-ef­fec­tive man­ner,” says Wendy Troxel, a Rand be­hav­ioral and so­cial sci­en­tist.

There’s in­ter­est out there. The Cal­i­for­nia state Sen­ate’s Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tee ap­proved a bill in Fe­bru­ary that would re­quire the school day for mid­dle and high schools to be­gin no ear­lier than 8:30 a.m., the change to be im­ple­mented by 2020.

Both the Amer­i­can Academy of Pe­di­atrics and the Amer­i­can Med­i­cal As­so­ci­a­tion al­ready rec­om­mend that stu­dents start class no ear­lier than 8:30 a.m. to ac­com­mo­date the known bi­o­log­i­cal in­flu­ences in ado­les­cent sleep-wake sched­ules. This is not the case in most states. The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion es­ti­mates that 82 per­cent of mid­dle and high schools in the U.S. cur­rently be­gin be­fore 8:30 a.m., with an av­er­age start time of 8:03 a.m.

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