Tuesday, September 10, 2013

U.S. Education Secretary: Later School Start Times Make Better Students, Safer Drivers

Research has found that students forced to start school in the early morning aren't at their best, and don't do as well on tests. They also are not as alert, and the result is an increase in at-fault automobile accidents.

"Teen brains have a different biology," states Kyla Wahlstrom, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Applied Research and Education Improvement. She has studied teens' sleep cycles and learning for the past 17 years, and has concluded that a rested student is a better student. Things such as absenteeism, depression, obesity, drop-out rates and even auto accidents are reduced when students get a good night's sleep.

Recently, Education Secretary Arne Duncan endorsed a later start to the school day, suggesting that a later start to the school day could help teenagers be alert and function better in class. He said that school districts would still be free to set their own start times, but that research has proven that a later start means better students.

While most medical professionals suggest that students get between 8.5 and 9.5 hours of sleep each night, The Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia surveyed students and found two-thirds of them were getting seven hours of less each night.

The problem is that school start times are controlled by administrators who are concerned about bus schedules and after-school activities, which would be pushed back by the later times.

"So, often we design school systems that work for adults and not for kids," Duncan told NPR's "The Diane Rehm Show."

Drowsy teens become drowsy drivers, and then translates to an increase in traffic accidents, too.

"Fifty years ago we learned that hungry kids don't do well in school. Now we know that sleepy children don't do well in school,"said Joseph Buckhalt, a distinguished professor at Auburn University's College of Education. "Now we have to do something about it."