High School Start Times: Myths, Misconceptions

Start School Later advocate Dolores Skowronek provides perspective on some common myths and misconceptions about early high school start times.

These past few years I have devoted a lot of time and effort towards raising awareness of the consequences of early high school start times. It hasn’t been easy and I’m often confronted with short sighted arguments and ill conceived solutions that will not fix the problems created by the bell schedules in our school district. Here are some common myths and misconceptions.

Myth #1:  The free “solution” – put your kid to bed earlier.

Really? I wish someone would tell me how this solution is going to work. Think about it. How many Greenfield parents do you know who aren’t able or willing to enforce early bed times? I know responsible moms and dads who work nights and aren’t around to monitor when their kids go to bed. I also know good kids with lousy parents who barely provide essential needs like food or shelter. I know of other parents who have died or are in jail. If our only solution is to insist that parents put their kids to bed early – will that really work for an entire community? Will that eliminate the problems created by our current high school start time - such as last year's 9,671 first hour tardies? Of course not.  Insisting that a community of parents and students alter their behavior to accommodate a bad policy isn’t a feasible solution. It makes more sense to change the one bad policy. 

Myth #2: The role of government – government shouldn’t be responsible for fixing the problems of individuals.

Okay, but government should be responsible for correcting its mistakes and fixing problems that it created. Several years ago, elected officials in our community made a huge mistake by allowing the bus company to essentially determine our school bell schedules. The result is a 7:10am high school start time that is among the earliest in the United States. Also of consequence are elementary school start times that are among the latest in Wisconsin – a huge problem for working families with little kids in morning daycare. The students in our district are not benefiting from these start times and deserve better. It’s time for our district to take the high road and correct its mistake. 

Myth #3: The research evidence – for every research article describing the negative consequences of early start times and adolescent sleep loss, there is one that says the opposite.

As a health science librarian, I’m speechless when someone tells me this. Not only is it completely untrue, but is shows a disregard for the value of research evidence and conveys ignorance for what has actually been published on these issues. Sadly, I once had a current school board member tell me that he had 50 articles for every 1 that I could find. I’m still waiting for him to produce just one….. 

Myth #4: Preparing students for success – students need to join the real world and get up early to be successful.

More than any other myth, this one makes my blood boil. In Greenfield, kids start high school when they’re 14 years old. Do we really need them to prove that they can be successful in the real world by insisting that they get up 5:30am or 6:00am? Instead, how about focusing on something that will actually increase their chances for real success – like education? Gone are the days when a kid could graduate, throw on a pair of steel toe boots and get a good manufacturing job. It’s time to focus on strategies that lead to academic success and ensure that students are well prepared for college. By the way, I work at a local college and our first class is at 8:00am – that’s pretty typical for higher education. The 7:10am start time at GHS does absolutely nothing to prepare our kids for success.  It does, however, help students whose career goals include asking “do you want fries with that?” or “paper or plastic”.

  The time for a change is long overdue.

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Nicole January 15, 2013 at 04:50 AM
Greenfield hasn't been a "bed of roses" due to some of its administration. Some... not all. Hopefully with new leadership, Greenfield will be on a path in which student performance increases, they retain good teachers, and overall has a positive climate for everyone. We can agree that yes, district admins & board members also must follow best practice..... but I can assure you- start time(s) at the high school isn't even close to the #1 priority. As far as "anonymous posts".... seriously? Now you have something to blog about??? Don't sweat the small stuff. There are bigger worries in the district/community than how I created my login for the Patch and what time our schools start. Let's focus on finding a quality superintendent who will bring positive energy to our district and community.
KHD January 16, 2013 at 12:57 AM
Nicole: I agree with you 100% Ther are alot more pressing issues, Super for one, and address school safety. It will cost more money yearly to get a great super. The safety issue should be one that is acted on after finding a replacement. It will cost some money, but that $200,000 it would cost for early start time, would be better spent on safety for our schools. Maybe we could find a few dollars to have some parenting classes for those parents that can't seem to get the kids to sleep earlier. I can't believe how some want to coddle these kids. I have yet to find a student at the high school that would rather start at 8:00am. I am sure glad that I didn't die early from starting my school day at 7:00 am in grade school and High school.
KHD January 18, 2013 at 07:34 PM
They are going to address school start times at the 21st meeting. Sadly though, I see nothing on the agenda to address school safety. Maybe if we battered the school board like Delores and her out of town commenters we could discuss school safety.
CowDung January 18, 2013 at 07:46 PM
Do we need to abolish daylight savings time as well? If later a start time is so critical for students to have, I shudder to think about what 'health hazards' will result when they lose an hour of sleep from which their bodies apparently will never recover...
CowDung January 18, 2013 at 07:50 PM
Do a little research on the issue and you will find that millions of teens are able to get enough sleep and have no issues with early start times. If teens kept a normal schedule, their bodies will adjust. It's no different than what happens when they go to different time zones or go through daylight savings clock changes...


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