Today the Manatee County School Board will consider setting an earlier starting time for high school students -- 7:30 a.m. These extra 15-minutes will allow schools to alter scheduling from blocks to periods, a strategy to improve student achievement should individual schools adopt the optional change.
The extra 15 minutes allows students to walk between shorter classes. The intent of a seven-day period every weekday instead of longer classes that don't meet daily is sound. But the idea bucks sleep science.
Research from the National Sleep Foundation has determined these points:
"Sleep is food for the brain. During sleep, important body functions and brain activity occur. Skipping sleep can be harmful ..."
"Sleep is vital to your well-being, as important as the air you breathe, the water you drink and the food you eat. It can even help you to eat better and manage the stress of being a teen."
"Teens need about 8 to 10 hours of sleep each night to function best. Most teens do not get enough sleep -- one study found that only 15 (percent) reported sleeping 8 1/2 hours on school nights."
Should Manatee County schools slice teen sleeping time even further than a 7:45 a.m. start time, how will that improve student achievement? Not according to research.
Sleep means everything
National Sleep Foundation also makes these salient points:
"Not getting enough sleep or having sleep difficulties can:
"Limit your ability to learn, listen, concentrate and solve problems. You may even forget important information like names, numbers, your homework or a date with a special person in your life."
"Lead to aggressive or inappropriate behavior such as yelling at your friends or being impatient with your teachers or family members."
"Heighten the effects of alcohol and possibly increase use of caffeine and nicotine; and contribute to illness, not using equipment safely or driving drowsy."
There is nothing positive about sleep deprivation. Any contribution to this is worse than counterproductive, it's destructive.
As Herald education reporter Meghin Delaney recounted in her Sunday article on the school board's meeting today, 15 percent of high schools open classrooms at 8:30 a.m. or later. An early beginning -- say, 7:30 a.m. -- means teenagers must hit the pillow at 9 p.m. or so to get the recommended eight to nine hours of sleep for this age group.
Is that even remotely happening?
The Manatee County school administration's worthy goal here is advancing student success. If extending the school day is the way, should that be at the expense of sleep -- and then confounding the very reason for the earlier day?
There's no easy answer to a longer day, not with transportation, food service and other issues the district must deal with, often conflicting with middle and elementary school schedules.
An earlier beginning to high school raises serious questions about the desired outcome.
Maybe wholesale schedule changes on all grade levels should be on the table. Sleep cannot be discounted. The future of our children should not be decided by a bus schedule.