Alison Yin for EdSource
Students have lunch at Skyline High School in Oakland, Calif., Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014.Photos by Alison Yin for EdSource

In the quest to improve the wellbeing of adolescents, some advocates and policymakers have suggested starting school later for middle and high school students so they can get more sleep.

Nancy Albarrán

But while well-intentioned, proposals to mandate school start times fail to take into account the complexity of the issue and perpetuate the illusion that adolescent sleep deprivation has a simple fix.

Those of us working in school systems will tell you that setting school start and end times requires balancing many factors, including the needs of students, parents and staff as well as the financial impact on school districts.

Pushing back the school start time, as proposed by SB 328, a bill now on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk, would mean ending school later, which would significantly limit time for family, homework and after-school activities such as sports, internships, volunteer work and jobs. In order to keep up, students would end up going to bed later.

We must carefully weigh the impact of a schedule change on communities as socioeconomically diverse as those we serve. Many students rely on parents to get to school and most of our working families cannot dictate a later start to their workday — this is a particularly stark reality for single working parents.

Chris Funk

Many students are dropped off in the morning by parents headed to work well before the current start time. Mandating that all districts delay the school start time will not change this reality. It would, however, result in students getting out of bed at the same time they do now and being on campus unsupervised for a longer period.

Furthermore, this bill is misaligned with the principle of local control and was vetoed last year by Gov. Jerry Brown, who indicated that these types of decisions are best handled by the local community.

We could not agree more.

In 2018, San Jose Unified School District held a forum to consider the merits of moving to a later start time in response to parents who were advocates for this change. Our forum featured an Oxford-style debate led by students and allowed for questions and dialogue within our community. After debating the potential benefits and consequences of a shift to a later start time, our community concluded that keeping the current start time is a better option for our students and families.

We can tell you from experience that well-rested teenagers are better and healthier students. We are all for a statewide campaign that communicates the value of sleep. We also agree with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has noted that school start times are just one of several factors that contribute to adolescent sleep deprivation.

Forcing schools to start later would not guarantee more sleep for students, risks creating unintended consequences for students and families — particularly those already struggling — and would add additional barriers for districts to tackle.

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Nancy Albarrán is superintendent of San Jose Unified School District and Chris Funk is superintendent of East Side Union High School District in San Jose.

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  1. Kim Newell Green, MD 2 months ago2 months ago

    As a pediatrician and a mom, I appreciate the authors' comments and can imagine the complexities of operationalizing a change in school schedules across the state. And I agree that adolescent sleep deprivation is affected by many factors. However, we know that teens natural body rhythms are different than those of adults and younger kids, and that during their adolescent years they have a hard time falling asleep early and a hard time … Read More

    As a pediatrician and a mom, I appreciate the authors’ comments and can imagine the complexities of operationalizing a change in school schedules across the state. And I agree that adolescent sleep deprivation is affected by many factors. However, we know that teens natural body rhythms are different than those of adults and younger kids, and that during their adolescent years they have a hard time falling asleep early and a hard time waking up early. Early school starts contribute to sleep deprivation that leads to poor school performance as well as many physical and mental health problems. And there is a growing body of evidence that later school starts increase test scores rapidly and dramatically. For this reason the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a statement urging school districts to aim for start times that maximize teen sleep. Though these changes are never easy, the rewards of improved test scores and healthier children will be profound and will make this effort worth it.

    Replies

    • David Cohen 2 months ago2 months ago

      I have much respect for the opinions of physicians and the body of research on this issue. I just don't think that legislating a single uniform school policy for the entire state makes sense. California is too large and there are too many factors involved. School start time is not a sufficiently controlling factor to get a grip on teen sleep deprivation. Households vary too much, family routines and needs vary too much, transportation modes … Read More

      I have much respect for the opinions of physicians and the body of research on this issue. I just don’t think that legislating a single uniform school policy for the entire state makes sense. California is too large and there are too many factors involved.

      School start time is not a sufficiently controlling factor to get a grip on teen sleep deprivation. Households vary too much, family routines and needs vary too much, transportation modes and availability vary too much.

      For many teens, a later start time might just mean waking up at the same time but spending more time waiting for school to start. But I would also definitely encourage each locality to set start times on the later side when possible and consistent with the community needs and well-informed opinions. I’ve taught high school classes starting around 7:45 (I don’t recall exactly – it was a long time ago) and starting at 8:20, and certainly think we’re better off with the latter. Glad our local decision has worked out.

  2. el 2 months ago2 months ago

    I think the research is really interesting, and I think it's incredibly valuable for the conversation to be had at the local level - why do we start when we do, and is it optimal for our kids and our community given our local needs? The research suggests that if all things are equal, the later start time is helpful. But all things are not as equal as we'd hope. For example, we still have classrooms … Read More

    I think the research is really interesting, and I think it’s incredibly valuable for the conversation to be had at the local level – why do we start when we do, and is it optimal for our kids and our community given our local needs?

    The research suggests that if all things are equal, the later start time is helpful. But all things are not as equal as we’d hope. For example, we still have classrooms in California without air conditioning. Buses too. Those schools might find that the advantage of the later start time is overwhelmed by the disadvantage of trying to teach kids advanced algebra in classrooms topping 90 degrees in the afternoon. Other considerations can include things like local traffic and typical work and commute patterns for the community. If the school bus picks up at 6:30, does not starting until 8:30 really help?

    The variation in latitude across the state is a big deal too, literally. Sunrise in San Diego is not at the same time as sunrise in Crescent City. In Crescent City, in fact, sunrise ranges from 5:30 am to 8:00 am over the course of a year. In San Diego, it varies from 6 am to 7 am.

    Do these effects last in the long term after the initial adjustment? What is the cue that makes 8:30 the right start time? Time after sunrise? Time after sunset? Time after bedtime? Time after the 11pm news?

    If resetting the clock by an hour matters over the long term, we should see changes in academic performance just due to daylight savings time changes.

    I think it’s a really great idea to obligate school boards to have an annual agendized open hearing about times or schedules and highlighting the research. But I’m not 100% convinced that this is a good place for a mandate or that the research has fully explored the parameters. Mostly I’m glad it won’t apply to rural districts like mine, so we can continue to use our local judgement.

  3. MARY jOHNSON, Parent-U-Turn 2 months ago2 months ago

    The Local District Board Members, like State Of California, don’t listen to the voice of the parents and community. The politicians think they know more than the community, who lived in the struggle. It seems that parents’ voices will be left behind again