Later start times for middle and high school students may improve grades, truancy and attendance, particularly for low-income students, a pair of UNC researchers told members of a key North Carolina legislative panel Tuesday.
Tuesday’s presentation to the House Select Committee on Education Strategy & Practices factored in a growing library of evidence nationally that shifting school start times later in the morning may be a boon to many students.
It’s not simply laziness, researchers told lawmakers, because children often see a shift in sleep cycle as they approach puberty.
“It’s hard for them to go to bed early and it’s hard for them to get up early,” said Kevin Bastian, a UNC-Chapel Hill public policy researcher.
Bastian presented his data Tuesday with Sarah Fuller, a UNC-Chapel Hill assistant professor, pointing to “robust” evidence that the time shift can improve grades while simultaneously reducing absenteeism and tardiness among low-income children, a group of students that tends to struggle more than their wealthier peers.
“That’s a pretty compelling story,” said Fuller.
Tuesday’s report echoed a 2014 recommendation from the American Academy of Pediatrics that middle and high schools commence no earlier than 8:30 a.m., despite the fact that scores of districts, including many in North Carolina, opt for earlier start times.
The proposal earned a somewhat chilly reception from legislators Tuesday. At the very least, lawmakers indicated they would require more research before acting to change practices in North Carolina.
“It’s a lot of food for thought,” said Rep. Craig Horn, a Republican from Union County. “But I’m going to be pretty hard to convince. We’re going to try to respond to a lot of social issues by going at earlier start times. I think we should be working on the issues themselves.”
Decisions about school start times are left to local school districts in North Carolina. Thus, school districts vary on their approach. Bastian pointed out urban districts, such as Wake County Public School System and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, commence around 7:30 a.m., while others, such as schools in Forsyth County, choose start times around 8:30 a.m. or later.
Still, Horn said he believes local governments, not the federal or state government, should be making decisions about school start times.
The implications for students are more muddled when it comes to end of grade testing. Fuller and Bastian said their data seemed to indicate no significant impacts on most end of grade tests, although there were modest improvements for some math courses and even some decline in biology scores.
ACT testing was also a mixed bag, reflecting small improvements in science courses, although, once again, low-income students seemed to benefit more, researchers said.