September 5, 2013

Start classes later, education chief urges

Arne Duncan says schools too often set hours that benefit adults rather than students' performance.

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - A later start to the school day could help teenagers get the most from their classroom time, so local districts should consider delaying the first bell, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Wednesday.

School districts would still be free to set their own start times, Duncan insisted in a broadcast interview, but he pointed to research that supports his comments that rested students are ready students. Duncan said he would not be telling local school leaders when their first bells should ring and that it was up to local leaders to make the decisions on their own.

"There's lots of research and common sense that lots of teens struggle to get up ... to get on the bus," said Duncan, the former chief of Chicago Public Schools.

Buses are a driving factor in when schools start their days, as are after-school jobs for teenagers, extracurricular activities and interscholastic sports. The challenge of transporting students to these activities -- as well as classes -- often is cited as a reason that high school days begin at dawn and end in midafternoon.

"So often, we design school systems that work for adults and not for kids," Duncan said.

Research backs up Duncan's worries about student sleep patterns and academic achievement.

"Children who sleep poorly are doing more poorly on academic performance," said Joseph Buckhalt, a distinguished professor at Auburn University's College of Education.

He has been tracking sleeping patterns of 250 children as well as their IQ tests, performance on standardized tests, their grades and behavior. His findings suggest sleep is just as important to student achievement as diet and exercise.

"All the data that we've seen on sleep shows that children, especially teenagers, are sleeping less," he said. "If you don't sleep well, you don't think very well."

 

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