THOSE EARLY HOURS
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.