Politics, Research, and School Reform: Letting Teens Sleep in

Our high school staff and administration are currently weighing the pros and cons of starting later given the preponderance of research in this area. However, there are many stakeholders in the process, both within and outside of the school proper, often with conflicting needs; like our Congress at times, the process frequently ends in stalemate with little, meaningful progress, especially without someone like Jilly to spearhead a grassroots effort for change.

When I was in high school, once I reached 16 years old and had my license, I worked every weekday evening flipping burgers until 11:00 AM, then “closing” for the next hour or so. The school day started at 7:00 AM. Waking up in the morning was extremely difficult, but with a 6′ 4″ father in the military, I found myself rousted up in time to make it, physically, to school on time. While starting later may have been helpful, it could have been problematic as I started work at 4:30 PM, right before the dinner rush. The later start time would have prevented me from finishing up my homework before work, or possibly from working, which was a necessity for this teenager, as it is for many today. This is just one example of the dilemma facing schools today when they consider delaying start times. It is not as simple as it might seem, even with a strong advocate like Jilly.

Larry Cuban on School Reform and Classroom Practice

Teaching high school students, first period of the school day, say, 7:30 or 8 AM is tough. Why? Students from both affluent and working class families shuffle into the room, sometimes carrying wake-up food and drink, and sit down at their desks giving the teacher the 1000-yard stare or closing their glazed eyes. They are sleepy.

Recent research (see here, here and here) has established that adolescent bodies and minds are still developing and getting five or less hours of sleep a night when doctors recommend nine means sluggish lessons in the mornings and sleepy afternoons in class.

Citing such research, some school boards (e.g., Long Beach, California; Glen Falls, New York, and Stillwater, Oklahoma), after many open meetings with parents and experts on sleep and teenagers initiated later start times for middle and high school students. Research tied to solving a problem–sleepy and non-involved teenagers in academic classes–…

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About Dave aka Mr. Math Teacher

Independent consultant and junior college adjunct instructor. Former secondary math teacher who taught math intervention, algebra 1, geometry, accelerated algebra 2, precalculus, honors precalculus, AP Calculus AB, and AP Statistics. Prior to teaching, I spent 25 years in high tech in engineering, marketing, sales and business development roles in the satellite communications, GPS, semiconductor, and wireless industries. I am awed by the potential in our nation's youth and I hope to instill in them the passion to improve our world at local, state, national, and global levels.
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