By Dan Decker
This is one of my favorite times of the year! It’s hard to believe we are already in the home stretch of the first quarter of the 2015-16 school year.
It’s so busy with many great things going on in all the buildings that time is definitely flying.
This week I want to share about an area of educational research that is gaining popularity in the United States: later school start times to coincide with the biological shifts of students.
This concept started on the coasts some time ago and is slowly working its way toward the middle of our nation.
Research is showing that biological shifts during the teenage years drive the need for longer sleep durations and later wake times. This means that when we ask a teenager to wake up at 7 a.m. it is basically the equivalent to asking an adult to wake up at 4 a.m.
Knowing this research, many schools are experimenting with 9 a.m. start times. The hopes of these districts are that by instituting a later start time they will see a payoff in student engagement and academic achievement.
Further studies have shown that adolescents who don’t get enough sleep often suffer physical and mental health problems and a decline in academic achievement. Many times it is hard for students to get enough sleep because with their sleep cycle, it is difficult to fall asleep before 11 p.m.
An international group of sleep researchers has taken it one step further and said classes should ideally start no earlier than 10 a.m. if schools want to give students opportunity to achieve optimal academic achievement.
Other research shows that teens’ ability to make responsible decisions, like going to bed on time, is still developing during adolescence. The use of items with “blue light” like tablets and smartphones, close to bedtime can affect students’ quality of sleep as well.
Over time sleep disruption can lead to a host of other issues that weaken classroom performance, including reduced concentration, attention, and memory capabilities.
Administrators in school districts who are committed to changing start times and bell schedules say it has been one of the decisions that sparked many concerns, comments, and resistance from parents and community members.
As time marches on and further research is completed, change of some sort will be inevitable. I think the things that schools and communities must do when looking at change are to communicate the issue, research, and communicate some more.
As with any issue, the focus must always remain on the students and what is best for them. I will continue from time to time, to highlight some changes in research involving education in my articles as food for thought.
(Dan Decker is superintendent of the Neosho R-5 School District. He can be reached at 451-8600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)