Changing School Start Times: Is it Worth it?

Jonathan Conrad, Writer

Every year students across the country complain that early starting times diminish their academic potential.  Some teachers complain that they have to drag their students through lessons in the morning while others believe that changing the start time would cause more problems than solutions.     

James Mackin, an English teacher, is one teacher who favors later start times. When asked about the matter, Mackin stated, “Everyone is more awake and participates more when we have late starts.”  That is no coincidence; Mackin believes that students tend to participate more when they are well-rested.

This may be the case, but people against later start times believe it is the student’s fault for not getting enough sleep. Why not go to bed earlier? According to Danice Eaton of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, for many students it’s nearly impossible to get the bare minimum of sleep – eight hours – that all teenagers should get. This is because natural sleep-wake patterns shift in adolescence.   

In addition, balancing sports and schoolwork isn’t a simple task.  Even though some students scurry to bed immediately after homework, often they don’t get enough sleep because of morning practices.  Mackin notices a difference in energy levels between morning students and afternoon students, and according to a poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation, 15% of students stated that they fell asleep during at least one of their morning classes. An ideal start time, Mackin says is 9 a.m. but that is “focused on students gaining more sleep, not bus scheduling.” Thus Mackin references one of the challenges to later start times: logistics.

Mike Doran, principal of Thomas S. Whooton High School in Maryland, believes that starting school later would cause more problems than most see at first glance.  For instance, Doran stated, “If school started later, for say at 8:15, traffic would be worse. Thus students would have to leave earlier, diminishing net gain of sleep.” Not only did Doran foresee traffic as being an issue, but he also brought up the hassle of changing the transportation schedule.  When asked to elaborate he stated, “The bottom line is we can’t transport kids all at the same time…it’s not as easy as a simple yes or no.” 
Of course, anyone would agree that students would perform better in school if they got more sleep; however, considering all of the obstacles the time change would cause, many question whether it is worth it.