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Fri11282014

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RESEARCHERS FIND: Later start times help high school students' health and learning

"No schools have returned to an earlier start time after trying a later one"

COLUMBIA, 1/12/13 (Beat Byte) -- "In the past decade, at least 80 US school districts have delayed their high school start times, and perhaps double that number are weighing such a change," says a 2009 article about sleep and academics in the nation's leading healthcare publication, the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The article is among several making the rounds among Mizzou health sciences faculty, who have sent letters petitioning the Columbia Public Schools (CPS) Board of Education to dump a proposed 7:20 a.m. high school start time in favor of a later hour.

Districts around the U.S. have made the changes for the same reason CPS had been considering, until a $1.3 million fuel cost savings intervened: "Studies show that when school starts later, students not only get more sleep but also contribute more to class discussions, doze in class less often, arrive tardy less often, miss fewer days, visit nurses and counselors less often, report less depression and irritability, and have fewer driving crashes."
 
So compelling are these many reasons for later start times that "no schools that have returned to an earlier start time after trying a later one," Kyla Wahlstrom, PhD, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, told JAMA.
 
Wahlstrom, who led a multiyear study assessing delayed high school opening on 50,000 students in the Minneapolis Public Schools, said she didn't want to overstate the effect of later start times, noting that many variables contribute to better grades. But "trend lines show grades rise when schools open later," she explained.

Researchers like Wahlstrom have maintained for years that early high school start times contribute to sleep deprivation, taking a toll on students' health and performance. They also acknowledge the challenges of moving things around: activities from athletics to after-school employment are affected.
 
Still, districts continue opening high schools at later times. The Duxbury, Mass. district changed its bus schedule, bringing older students to school later and younger students earlier.
 
"Once the Duxbury school committee concluded that a later start time would be in students' best interest, 'we had to find a way to make it happen,' Duxbury public schools superintendent Susan Skeiber told JAMA.
 
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