Should School Start Later So Teenagers Can Sleep More?

From Aaron Carroll at The New York Times:

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At first glance, the easy answer to this question would be yes. If students are well rested, their academic performance will improve. There are other factors at play though. The net result remains starting school later for middle and high school students would be a benefit, but let’s walk through the variables.

Positives:

Teenagers are recommended to sleep 9 to 10 hours per night. That is not happening when they need to wake up at 6 a.m. to reach school by 7:30 a.m. “More than 90 percent of high schools and more than 80 percent of middle schools start before 8:30 a.m.” Skeptics might think starting school later means teenagers would stay up later, but numerous studies have shown they tend to go to bed at the same time regardless. “…delaying the start of school from 25 to 60 minutes corresponded with increased sleep time of 25 to 77 minutes per week night.” 

Negatives:

It would increase costs for school systems. Middle and high schools start early because they tend to use the same school buses as the ones picking up elementary school students for their 8:30 a.m. start times. An investment in additional buses and drivers would need to be made.

Also, if school is ending later, after-school activities will run later and may interfere with parents’ work schedules.

— More lighting may need to be built around the school too if students are hanging around the facility later in the evening after activities end.

Net result: still positive

One investigation estimated the increased transportation costs would amount to $150 per student per year. But the benefit to students’ academic performance from being better rested would be similar to two extra months of school and add nearly $20,000 to the lifetime earnings per student. Another study factored in the benefit of fewer car crash fatalities from tired student drivers going to and from school. A final summary:

Since it would take at least a year for any students affected by changes in start times to enter the labor market, there would be no gains in the first year. Costs, however, would accrue immediately. These included about $150 per student per year in transportation costs and $110,000 per school costs in upfront infrastructure upgrades. Even so, by the second year, the benefits outweighed the costs. By 10 years, the benefits were almost double the costs; by 15 years, they were almost triple.