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Friday, October 31, 2014
Amsterdam, NY ,
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What about starting the school day later?

Thursday, September 04, 2014 - Updated: 8:11 AM

This week, as the new school year begins, is a good time to consider a recent recommendation by the American Academy of Pediatrics that starting classes an hour or so later would have many benefits.

The report, timed not so coincidentally to reach parents and others as households start adjusting to school time, relies on science and promotes the many benefits of a later start.

When students are more rested and alert, they do better in class. That is more of an assumption than a proven fact, but there are enough studies to indicate that it is worth considering. And there is no evidence that says starting the school day even earlier than it does now would have any benefit.

The other advantages come in the same general categories. Let students, especially the older ones who drive to school, get more sleep and they are less likely to get into accidents. Delay the starting time a bit and students are less likely to be late, to miss the first few periods, or to decide that they might as well skip the rest of the day having missed some classes already. There actually are studies backing up that assumption.

The arguments against a later start focus not so much on calculating the most beneficial hour as they do on the disruptions that would come from changing what has become the norm.

Bus schedules would have to change, although there are some studies that show this does not necessarily have to increase costs. After-school activities would start and end later, although that also does not necessarily add any costs.

What prompted the pediatricians to make their recommendation was a substantial body of evidence that shows youngsters, especially teens in high school, need more sleep than they are now getting. Districts that pushed back the start time by an hour were able to find many of the expected benefits and few of the anticipated problems.

And there is some evidence that the main objection of those who resist this idea, that students will merely stay up an hour later and get no more rest, is not necessarily true. While the findings of these studies rely on self-reporting, many of those districts who changed their schedules have found that students go to bed around the same time they do now and really do get the advantage of that extra hour in the morning.

Anyone interested in the subject should start with a visit to the website of the National Sleep Foundation -- sleepfoundation.org -- and get educated about the state of the research.

This is obviously not a discussion that will have any bearing on the new year. But parents should be concerned that their children get the amount of sleep they need, an amount that most doctors say most youngsters are not getting when school is in session.

And there's another reason for parents to take up this cause. School districts set their own schedules, and this is one of the few areas where local concerns have a chance to make a real difference.

-- The Times Herald-Record of Middletown

     

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