Target: Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
Goal: Encourage school districts to set a later start time for more productive student learning
For the average high school student, each new day of school can bring a very real, but often overlooked challenge: just waking up in the morning to get to class on time. According to KTVU news, lack of sleep can severely hamper adolescent students’ ability to stay alert in class, a well-documented fact that experts say is common sense. Likewise, absenteeism, tardiness, depression, obesity, drop-out rates and even auto accidents all decline when students are well-rested, according to research at the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Education Improvement.
The reasons behind this phenomenon range from the biological to cultural. General medical recommendations follow that the teenage brain needs 8.5-9.5 hours of sleep a night – a serious issue when studies by Virginia’s Fairfax District show 8th-10th graders sleeping less than 7 hours a night. Important to consider also is the vastly competitive nature of higher education that high school and even elementary students must look forward to. High school students in particular face increasing pressure to perform academically and pursue extracurricular activities ranging from sports, clubs, and jobs either to appear “well-rounded” on college applications or to save for the rising expenses of higher education.
With more studies connecting lack of sleep to lower academic performance, schools as well as Secretary of Education Duncan are taking the problem more seriously. The latter even issued a recommendation for starting school later in the day as a way both students and schools could ensure quality learning time. Yet, the persisting obstacles to adopting more widespread later start times present a difficult fix. A structural issue, Secretary Duncan notes, is that “so often, we design school systems that work for adults and not for kids,” prompting schools to begin classes in the early morning and finish early afternoon. Cost counts too – school officials in Arundel County in Maryland rejected parents’ petition for later starts to school day due to the large expense of shifting bus schedules and transportation operators needed to take students to school.
A tweet from Secretary Duncan reads: “common sense to improve student achievement that too few have implemented: let teens sleep more, start school later.” According to the non-profit Start Schools Later, school districts in over 28 states have implemented this strategy successfully. The stage is set; let’s not hit “snooze.”
By signing the petition below, you can urge Secretary Duncan to advocate for starting high school classes later in the day and prioritize the quality of students’ learning and well-being.
Dear Secretary of Education Arne Duncan,
I am writing to you about your recommendation for starting school later in the day later to help schools and students get the most out of the learning experience. I commend you for this consideration, one that merits further attention from more schools nationwide.
You have acknowledged the well-documented relationship between students’ lack of sleep and poor academic performance. Conversely, studies conducted by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Education Improvement demonstrate that absenteeism, tardiness, depression, obesity, drop-out rates and even auto accidents all decline when students are well-rested. Pushing school days’ start times back offers immense health and safety benefits to our communities.
You have set the stage for such an intervention, supporting later start times as a common sense measure and as a big boost to our education system. I thank you for your efforts so far, and now encourage you to expand awareness of this strategy among schools nationwide. A major opportunity lies in disseminating the invaluable research that delineates how lack of sleep contributes to lower standardized test scores, a factor that schools will now be judged by, according to President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative. You have our support on this project. I sincerely hope you will continue the leadership you have shown already and empower schools to foster well-rested and healthy students who come to class each day ready to learn.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: Maureen via childwisechat.com