Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Montgomery County Parents Launch Petition Asking School Board & Superintendent to Start High School AFTER 8:15 AM

UPDATE: The petition for a later start time for high school appears to be going viral in Montgomery County. Last night, over 1,000 had signed the petition, and tonight there are nearly 3,000 signers.

An interesting email came through my neighborhood listserv today. Concerned parents are petitioning the school board and Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) to consider starting high school at 8:15 am or later. Indeed, when I was going to high school in MoCo, I must admit I found that starting high school around 7:00 am was some bizarre form of adolescent torture. It turns out I'm not the only one. Already over 1,000 people have signed on asking MCPS to start school later than the crack of dawn, and it appears to be parents (rather than sleepy students) who are making the noise. You can read dozens of comments from MoCo parents on the petition.

Maryland Juice is all about evidence-based policymaking, and the concerned parents raise some interesting points. See the petition text below:
Changing Montgomery County, MD's High School Start Times to 8:15 AM or Later.

To be delivered to: Montgomery County, MD's Superintendent of Schools and Board of Education and Montgomery County, MD's Superintendent of Schools and Board of Education

We respectfully request our school board to officially recognize the large and compelling body of research regarding teen sleep and academic achievement, and, with a resolution, to set a goal to start high schools in Montgomery County, MD, after 8:15 AM.
  • When teens get the required 8.5 to 9 hours of sleep: 
  • School attendance goes up, 
  • Tardiness decreases, 
  • They sleep less in class, 
  • They get in fewer traffic accidents, 
  • Visit nurses and counselors less often, and, 
  • Report less depression and irritability.
Starting school before 8:15 AM, without a doubt, undermines optimal academic achievement.

PARENTS TWEET ABOUT SCHOOL START TIMES: Upon hearing about this effort, I took to Twitter to seek feedback. I received some interesting responses and website links, including one from a group called "Start School Later." They appear to be based in Annapolis and have a chapter in Montgomery County. Very interesting. See the Tweets below, followed by some additional commentary:

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? - A visit to the Start School Later website reveals the following information about the group:
START SCHOOL LATER: Start School Later is a national coalition working to ensure that all public schools can set hours compatible with health, safety, equity, and learning.
For those curious about the issue, their website also has a section titled "What's the Big Deal?" that provides a peek at their perspective:
What's the Big Deal?

Many high schools start as early as 7:00 am and end seven hours later. Cost savings, such as being able to use buses two or more times for middle and elementary as well as high school runs have been cited as advantages. After school sports, fast food, retail and seasonal employers and other extracurricular pursuits have quickly adjusted to this early start. 

There is now compelling evidence that starting middle and high school before the sun rises is out of sync with the biological clocks of young people (people ages 12-25, which includes young teachers).

Even more disturbingly, starting school at these hours has now been linked not only to widespread sleep deprivation but also to a host of physical, psychological, and educational problems. There is now no legitimate reason to require any child, of any age, to start instruction before 8 a.m. (teens would actually be better off after 8:30). 

It is negligent not to work for change to a later school time. Local efforts to change inevitably spark raging controversy. Politics, money and misunderstanding often override the best interests of students, teachers and communities.  

One of the Tweeters above also linked to a scientific journal article on NIH's website that came to the following conclusion:
PEDIATRICS JOURNAL: The results of this study demonstrated that current high school start times contribute to sleep deprivation among adolescents. Consistent with a delay in circadian sleep phase, students performed better later in the day than in the early morning. However, exposure to bright light in the morning did not change the sleep/wake cycle or improve daytime performance during weekdays. Both short-term and long-term strategies that address the epidemic of sleep deprivation among adolescents will be necessary to improve health and maximize school performance.

SCHOOL PET PEEVES: Maryland Juice is intrigued by this niche movement and eager to find out if anything will come of their efforts. This reminds me of an old pet peeve of mine. Specifically, when I was going to public school in Montgomery County, we did not offer foreign language education until middle school. Both science and common sense would dictate that starting much earlier would be wiser (ie: before our brains have become more hardened to our native languages). What gives?

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