The school day schedule needs revision

Tradition dies hard in education, but nowhere more so than in the hours of a typical school day (“The Curse of America’s Illogical School-Day Schedule,” The Atlantic, Sep. 19).  Classes begin too early and end too soon to meet the needs of most students and working parents.

The usual start time for public high schools is 8:00.  The trouble is that most teenagers don’t naturally fall asleep until 11:00 or so.  As a result, they arrive at school half awake.  I vividly remember the semester when I had two classes of senior composition.  The first began at 8:15, and the second after lunch period at about 1:00.  Both classes were composed of students of equal ability.  But the difference in performance between the two was dramatic.

Working parents whose children are in elementary school also find the present schedule to be a burden, but for a different reason.  They are forced to find caretakers until they arrive home from work.  During the long winter months, they worry about their children walking home in inclement weather.

Eventually, I foresee public schools providing wraparound services that begin with breakfast and end with supper.  That would be costly, but I think pressure is building for such a radical change.  For one thing, The RAND Corporation estimates that starting school after 8:30 would contribute at least $83 billion to the national economy within a decade.  That’s no small thing to consider.

Unfortunately, Gov. Jerry Brown of California vetoed a bill that would have required middle and high schools to start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.  He said such decisions are best handled at the local school level.

(To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

6 Replies to “The school day schedule needs revision”

  1. The school systems in suburban Washington, DC have been debating the school-start-time issue for at least two decades, with relatively little progress. The early start times for high school students survive because: 1) starting high school later would require purchasing more school buses and hiring more drivers (increased costs); and 2) starting high school later would require ending high school later which would adversely impact sports, extracurricular activities, students’ after-school jobs, and students caring for younger siblings in the afternoon.

    The sports issue is probably the major obstacle to moving the high school start times. When I was in high school in the 1960s, girls sports teams were largely an afterthought. Now, girls sports teams require almost as much practice time and practice facilities as boys sports teams. However, most high schools have not significantly expanded the number of practice facilities to keep pace with the increased demand. Therefore, after-school sports practices now often operate in two shifts. If high school ends later in the afternoon, there will be insufficient time for the two shifts. A related sports issue is that, in the decades since I was in high school, high school sports training and competition has become more intense and time-consuming. Team practices that in the 1960s ran for 90 minutes now run for 180 minutes. Of course, in many communities (even higher-SES communities where you’d expect academics to trump sports), the sports booster clubs (parents of students on the athletic teams) are well-organized, raise a lot of $ for the schools, and exert significant political pressure on the local school boards.

    No easy answers (although I completely agree that high school start times should be moved back).

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  2. Labor Lawyer: As I wrote, tradition dies hard in education. Starting the school day later is a prime example. Athletics would be the first things affected. When I was in high school in the 1950s, the district was so geographically small that almost all students walked to class. As a result, busing was not a major concern. But I continue to believe that academics should take precedence over athletics, which is why I support starting school an hour later.

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  3. Or, we could start high school later and limit sports practice time to say 60-90 minutes/day. So long as every school in the league committed to the same practice time limit, this would work for everyone except perhaps the very few super-athletes who were looking to professional sports some day.

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  4. I have taught in many schools/school systems that had different schedules.
    1. A high school that switched from starting from 7:15 to 8:15 so students could get more sleep. Well, what happened was that our tardies and absences increased. Students said it allowed them to stay up later. Another problem was that parents were not able to drop their children off on their way to work. After two years the schedule was changed back.
    2. The vocational technical school(3000 students) I taught at had two start times. The main reason was to save money on buses.
    3. The county I taught in Florida has a high school schedule of 7:20-1:50. One has to remember that, in Florida, athletics are more important than education. Middle school hours(9:40-4:10).
    4. One of my grandsons graduated last year from a NC high school. Their hours were 8:40-3:45. If athletes had an afternoon game, they would have to miss at least one class. My grandson favored the late start time.
    This discussion will continue since principals/supers/school boards will always know what is BEST for the students.

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