Studies Show Academic & Health Benefits of Starting School Day Later; Legislation to study the potential benefits of later start times for middle school and high school students was approved by the Senate Education Committee. Sponsored by Senator Richard Codey, the bill would have state education officials study the issue, including a review of scientific reports showing that student health and academic performance are improved with later start times and the experience of schools that have made the change.
“New research is showing that most schools have their starting clocks set at the wrong time,” said Senator Codey. “The high schools and middle schools beginning too early while the elementary and pre-k programs are too late.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently recommended an 8:30 a.m. or later start time for middle and high schools, describing the topic a “significant health issue” for adolescents.
“This isn’t about letting teenagers sleep in, it’s about the academic and health consequences of school schedules that are misaligned,” said Senator Codey. “The smart thing to do is to take a close look at the scientific evidence, the opinions of the medical community and the experience of other schools. We want the best for students.”
More than 1,000 schools across the country have already pushed back start times and reviews of these districts have shown improvements in various measures, Senator Codey noted.
The average start time for the majority of the nation’s more than 18,000 public high schools is before 8:00 a.m., the review found. Early start times result in more absences and tardiness and lower test scores, multiple studies have found.
“In my own district, the average start time for middle and high school is roughly 7:45 a.m., while the average elementary school start time is 8:30 a.m.,” said Senator Codey. “It appears we have it upside down.”
Doctors say that teenagers need a minimum of nine hours of sleep. Without it, their grades can suffer, they are more prone to physical problems such as obesity and to mental problems such as depression, according to the pediatricians’ report. There is also a higher rate of driving accidents involving drowsy students, the report found. In addition, reports show that it is biologically difficult for teens to fall asleep before 11 p.m. and wake up prior to 8 a.m.
In addition to doing an assessment of the potential health, academic and safety benefits of beginning the school day later, Senator Codey’s bill would have the education officials consider a pilot program for some New Jersey schools to voluntarily test later start times. The state study would include a review of other schools in the country and options for making any recommended time changes. The report would be submitted to the Legislature and the Governor, according to the bill.
The legislation, S-2484, was approved by the committee with a vote of 5-0.