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High School Start Times: Myths, Misconceptions

Start School Later advocate Dolores Skowronek provides perspective on some common myths and misconceptions about early high school start times.

These past few years I have devoted a lot of time and effort towards raising awareness of the consequences of early high school start times. It hasn’t been easy and I’m often confronted with short sighted arguments and ill conceived solutions that will not fix the problems created by the bell schedules in our school district. Here are some common myths and misconceptions.

Myth #1:  The free “solution” – put your kid to bed earlier.

Really? I wish someone would tell me how this solution is going to work. Think about it. How many Greenfield parents do you know who aren’t able or willing to enforce early bed times? I know responsible moms and dads who work nights and aren’t around to monitor when their kids go to bed. I also know good kids with lousy parents who barely provide essential needs like food or shelter. I know of other parents who have died or are in jail. If our only solution is to insist that parents put their kids to bed early – will that really work for an entire community? Will that eliminate the problems created by our current high school start time - such as last year's 9,671 first hour tardies? Of course not.  Insisting that a community of parents and students alter their behavior to accommodate a bad policy isn’t a feasible solution. It makes more sense to change the one bad policy. 

Myth #2: The role of government – government shouldn’t be responsible for fixing the problems of individuals.

Okay, but government should be responsible for correcting its mistakes and fixing problems that it created. Several years ago, elected officials in our community made a huge mistake by allowing the bus company to essentially determine our school bell schedules. The result is a 7:10am high school start time that is among the earliest in the United States. Also of consequence are elementary school start times that are among the latest in Wisconsin – a huge problem for working families with little kids in morning daycare. The students in our district are not benefiting from these start times and deserve better. It’s time for our district to take the high road and correct its mistake. 

Myth #3: The research evidence – for every research article describing the negative consequences of early start times and adolescent sleep loss, there is one that says the opposite.

As a health science librarian, I’m speechless when someone tells me this. Not only is it completely untrue, but is shows a disregard for the value of research evidence and conveys ignorance for what has actually been published on these issues. Sadly, I once had a current school board member tell me that he had 50 articles for every 1 that I could find. I’m still waiting for him to produce just one….. 

Myth #4: Preparing students for success – students need to join the real world and get up early to be successful.

More than any other myth, this one makes my blood boil. In Greenfield, kids start high school when they’re 14 years old. Do we really need them to prove that they can be successful in the real world by insisting that they get up 5:30am or 6:00am? Instead, how about focusing on something that will actually increase their chances for real success – like education? Gone are the days when a kid could graduate, throw on a pair of steel toe boots and get a good manufacturing job. It’s time to focus on strategies that lead to academic success and ensure that students are well prepared for college. By the way, I work at a local college and our first class is at 8:00am – that’s pretty typical for higher education. The 7:10am start time at GHS does absolutely nothing to prepare our kids for success.  It does, however, help students whose career goals include asking “do you want fries with that?” or “paper or plastic”.

  The time for a change is long overdue.

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Really? January 14, 2013 at 04:34 AM
Myth #1: 9671 is a large number. But lets look at that number a little closer. 9671/180 school days = 54 students per school day.(180 days) 54/1287 (approximate students) = 4% of the schools population. Of that 4% how many are the same students every day? Insisting that a school district spoend in excess of $220,000.00 because of 4% of the population does not seem like fiscal responsibility. It seems to me as if 96% of the students can make it to school on time. Quote: "How many Greenfield parents do you know who aren’t able or willing to enforce early bed times?" I'm not sure making excuses for poor parenting is a valid reason either. Why don't we expect parents to do their job? It is never easy for families who are in the midst of struggle and I certainly don't mean to minimize that impact as it is a major problem for many families and has huge impact on student success in the classroom. A later start time will not erase those struggles. Greendale starts their day at 7:21 yet achieve higher than Greenfield. They have families in need as well. Some how their community does see a need to take the necessary steps to make it to school on time and achieve. Their schedule will look different next year as they are looking at instituting a resource period for freshman, those students who are struggliing or just want additional help. They will be adjusting their start time to 7:15 AM! My comment is only aimed at Myth 1. The next board has a lot of things to consider.
Really? January 14, 2013 at 04:35 AM
oops spend not spoend. Sorry...
Really? January 14, 2013 at 04:50 AM
Myth #2. As far as I know the start time at GHS has been consistent for the past 30 years. 7:20 to 7:15, and now 7:10. The bus company did not dictate that. Changing the schedule to squeeze more class time into the day was also a factor as are extra curricular schedules at the end of the day. If you start the elementary kids earlier the parents will need child care at the end of the day as well as the older HS kids in their families or who babysit for them will not be available. For much of the winter it is darker in the morning - do we want K4-5th grade students waiting outside in the dark? If extra curricular activities go later in the day - how will that effect homework schedules, job schedules, family schedules, and missing class time because some extra curricular schedules call for kids to be pulled from class? This issue's solution is not as simple as saying "this" solution is the best. There are good and valid arguments on all all sides of this discussion but the answer is not simple. Many things need to be taken into consideration and the likely solution will need to be a combination of things, including asking parents to do their job and make the tough decisions to make their children learn responsibility and get to school on time.
Maribel Ibrahim January 14, 2013 at 05:18 AM
Dolores, thank you for writing this insightful piece. "Really,?" Just because a solution is not simple or easy to come by, does not mean that the problem can be summarily dismissed. There is a significant and known health hazard associated with the sleep deprivation that is caused by these early school starts. It is negligible to see the overwhelming evidence that Dolores has compiled here: http://startschoollater.pbworks.com/w/page/58217472/Start%20School%20Later%20Reference%20List and continue to ignore the sleep needs of students and the sleep deprivation that is being designed by early school starts. This trumps all other items of convenience or preference.
Maribel Ibrahim January 14, 2013 at 05:20 AM
We have compiled more myths and misconceptions about later school start times here: http://www.startschoollater.net/myths-and-misconceptions.html I hope readers will take the time to read these resources and make an informed decision before jumping into comments.
Really? January 14, 2013 at 05:25 AM
Maribel I have a feeling that you are not from Greenfield. Please don't forget that this is a local issue and that the board of education has recently acted on this issue. I have not dismissed any facts of hers. Myth 1 and myth 2 are mostly opinion. I just voiced my opinion on what I felt were hers.
Deborah O. Moore January 14, 2013 at 02:09 PM
Really? The fact is that if every high school student went to bed at 9 PM each night, they wouldn't be able to fall asleep until 10:30 or so since the release of the sleep hormone melatonin is delayed for adolescents. Do the math. If sleep research states that teens need 9 hours of sleep and they have to get up in the 6:00 hour, then it creates an environment where teens are perpetually sleep deprived. And if you do a little research on this issue, you will realize that this is not just a local issue. Efforts to start the high school day later are being fought all over the country, including here in Arlington, TX.
Really? January 14, 2013 at 02:55 PM
Deborah - So the kids that are asleep at 9 PM, my 16 year old daughter included, really aren't asleep? As for it being a local issue - it is. It is local in every district that is taking up the issue. It is up to them to decide what they want to do for their community. You want to paint this issue with a broad stroke and every district across the country must operate the same. Local boards are formed to make decisions that are in the best interest of their local community. Not every decision is going to be a popular one for every member in the district. What works in one district may not work in another district due to circumstances not faced by each other. You are more than welcome to fight the fight in Arlington Texas but as I said, locally, the district has already acted on this topic, very recently. There are issues in Arlington that are not common heree in Greenfield. You have little background on all of the issues here just as I have very little information on the issues facing you in Arlington. I certainly wouldn't feel the need to comment on an issue facing your district as it is not of my concern. It is yours. Focus on yours. Our board will deal with ours. The boards must listen to all sides of the argument - which they did here, and make the best decision for the entire district. They have many issues that they look at and must take into consideration.
Pamela Panich January 14, 2013 at 07:18 PM
Is this being addressed at the January 21st board meeting?
David Cotey January 14, 2013 at 07:53 PM
Hey Pamela. That agenda has not yet been released and likely won't be until the Friday before the meeting. Not sure if it will appear on it or not.
Nicole January 15, 2013 at 12:53 AM
I agree with Really? on many points. I think it is ignorant to suggest that all high school students going to bed at 9pm don't fall asleep until 10:30pm.My son comes home from practice exhausted and is asleep within 15 minutes. More importantly, I cannot believe that I read 'I know parents that have died or are in jail' and suggest that there are just too many parents that can't monitor their children. Are you kidding me? Is that really an argument that you think is valid?? Bottom line: we all make choices in life. As a professional, I stay up late some nights and I have to get up really early in the morning. I know you will argue that the release of my melatonin is different- (which makes me laugh)- but I learn how to manage my time, I take the consequences for my actions. I don't believe that the world should revolve around me and my preferred or needed sleeping time. I don't particularly like the lunch time set for me- I don't go to my boss and say something equivalent like:, "Oh I'm really sorry but I'm not able to digest my food most effectively this early in the day so you will need to change my lunch hour which will affect company and cost you more money." And what are the 19-year olds supposed to do when their jobs start at 7:00am? "Sorry, but the melatonin and all....I just can't get up that early to work." Take responsibility and stop making excuses for yourself! This is what we need to teach our kids..... not that the world revolves around them.
Dolores Skowronek January 15, 2013 at 03:47 AM
Look around, Greenfield isn’t a bed of roses. Sadly, I do know parents who are not willing to monitor what their children do. Is my argument valid? Absolutely - and our current start time is just one more obstacle that many kids in our community will need to overcome. Sweet kids. Am I making excuses for them? No, I believe that people should have personal responsibility. But my beliefs and personal values are mine and I don’t have the power to make other people embrace them. While we’re on the subject, our district administrators and school board members also have responsibilities and those include following best practices when setting policies that impact the education of ALL children. You are fortunate that your child doesn’t have issues with the start time. I wish our family was as lucky. Thanks Nicole and Really? for the anonymous posts. Now I have something to blog about when I write Myths and Misconceptions: Part 2.
Nicole January 15, 2013 at 04:50 AM
Greenfield hasn't been a "bed of roses" due to some of its administration. Some... not all. Hopefully with new leadership, Greenfield will be on a path in which student performance increases, they retain good teachers, and overall has a positive climate for everyone. We can agree that yes, district admins & board members also must follow best practice..... but I can assure you- start time(s) at the high school isn't even close to the #1 priority. As far as "anonymous posts".... seriously? Now you have something to blog about??? Don't sweat the small stuff. There are bigger worries in the district/community than how I created my login for the Patch and what time our schools start. Let's focus on finding a quality superintendent who will bring positive energy to our district and community.
KHD January 16, 2013 at 12:57 AM
Nicole: I agree with you 100% Ther are alot more pressing issues, Super for one, and address school safety. It will cost more money yearly to get a great super. The safety issue should be one that is acted on after finding a replacement. It will cost some money, but that $200,000 it would cost for early start time, would be better spent on safety for our schools. Maybe we could find a few dollars to have some parenting classes for those parents that can't seem to get the kids to sleep earlier. I can't believe how some want to coddle these kids. I have yet to find a student at the high school that would rather start at 8:00am. I am sure glad that I didn't die early from starting my school day at 7:00 am in grade school and High school.
KHD January 18, 2013 at 07:34 PM
They are going to address school start times at the 21st meeting. Sadly though, I see nothing on the agenda to address school safety. Maybe if we battered the school board like Delores and her out of town commenters we could discuss school safety.
CowDung January 18, 2013 at 07:46 PM
Do we need to abolish daylight savings time as well? If later a start time is so critical for students to have, I shudder to think about what 'health hazards' will result when they lose an hour of sleep from which their bodies apparently will never recover...
CowDung January 18, 2013 at 07:50 PM
Do a little research on the issue and you will find that millions of teens are able to get enough sleep and have no issues with early start times. If teens kept a normal schedule, their bodies will adjust. It's no different than what happens when they go to different time zones or go through daylight savings clock changes...

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