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Monfredo: Later Starting Time Equals Better Attendance & Student Achievement

Sunday, August 21, 2016


Across the nation as the children get ready to return to school, the continued question in many school systems is “Should Teenagers start high school later in the morning?  Worcester is no different for at the standing committee on Teaching, Learning and Student Support that was one of the major topics discussed.

Mounting research in the past ten years suggests that teens do better in school if their schedules allow them get more sleep. This has also been supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics. But Worcester, like many other districts, has been reticent in making the change even though the back-up provided to the standing committee stated that “the benefits of a later start time  is clear and indisputable.”  Before discussing the pitfalls let’s go back and talk about the benefits.

Research shows that sleep affects health, happiness and cognitive functioning among teens.  A study from Brown University by professor Mary Carskadon suggest that melatonin is released in the adolescent brain later at night, making it difficult for teens to go to bed early and be alert first thing in the morning.  She also stated, "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."

Researcher after researcher continues to point out that sleep deficit could hamper high achievement among our teens.  So rather than the “early to bed… adage, the new adage should be “Wake up later and your grades will be greater.”  This is what is happening in many of our cities in Massachusetts for many schools have started to make the switch to a later starting time.  Shrewsbury changed their time to an 8:00 opening after approximately nine months of studying school start time and the sleep of adolescents.  North Andover made the switch after the Superintendent formed an advisory committee to collect research and spoke to sleep experts. The resulting change in 2011 was a success for it showed positive outcomes in improved grades and in attendance.  There was also a decrease in tardiness and disciplinary action.

In Eastham, Nauset High School changed their time in 2012 and according to their statistics there was a 53%  drop in the number of failing grades and the number of days students were suspended for disciplinary reasons plummeted and there was an improvement in attendance and tardiness.

While some school districts can’t prove achievement has increased substantially, they do state that attendance has improved.  That in itself would be a bonus for Worcester with most of the secondary schools having a chronic absentee problem well over 16%.  

What I’m stating is that there are many schools across the nation that are finding ways to prioritize health and learning.  So, what’s the problem?  A late starting time triggers problems that school districts have to solve in order to move forward and transportation being on the top of the list.   The idea that the only way to make it work is to reroute or add buses at exorbitant costs I believe is a myth.  Communities that have put student health and well being first have found a variety of creative solutions, and in some cases have saved money in the process.  My thoughts are to have administration review this issue creatively and see if we can come up with a starting time of 8:00 so let’s study it again and don’t look for barriers … look for solutions.

My colleagues on the standing committee Brian O’Connell and Molly McCullough want to move this agenda forward, too.  Ms. McCullough suggested perhaps a pilot program in a quadrant and Mr. O’Connell, chair of the committee, suggested that the school transportation department try another time to come up with a schedule that would accommodate a later starting time.    As for me… I want to see this happen in the next school year for we need less talk and more action to make it happen.  Stay tuned for more on this topic in December!


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