Thursday, December 12, 2013


We have a very outspoken teacher at school who definitely wants our school to change to a later start time.  This was proposed a year or more ago, a parent group really wanted it, but for a variety of reasons (which I won't go into here) the proposal didn't pass.

Today that teacher again offered a proposal at our staff meeting.  In a nutshell it was this:  start all classes a half an hour later.  In addition, we'd offer more "zero period" classes that would start at 7:20 (instead of the few we currently have, that start at 6:50) and our 1st period classes would start at 8:20 instead of 7:50.  Teachers would get to choose if they wanted to teach a "zero through 5th" track or a standard "1st through 6th" track.

On the surface it sounds like a great idea; however, think a little about it and all sorts of issues arise.  It's not my purpose here to debate the pros and cons of the proposal or each of the impacts, but just to give an idea of how many impacts there are, I'll state a few:  busing for special ed students, janitorial support, administrative presence, athletic practices, scheduling students into 0 period courses whether they want them or not, cafeteria worker scheduling, secretarial staff, instructional aides (who, if present for 0 period, wouldn't be available for 6th period), after-school detention, "roamers" on campus during 6th period, families with younger siblings at other schools on other schedules--I'm sure there are other considerations that were brought up that I'm not remembering, but you get the idea.

The point is that changing our start time by a half an hour impacts so many different people; we're not an island, we're part of a community.  Change the start time by 30 minutes and look at all the dominoes that fall.  Come up with a fix for one, and unintended (or unconsidered) consequences ensure another domino falls.

It occurred to me that this is why command economies and big government don't work--because no one person has all of the information needed to make a good, informed decision.  It gets even worse if you don't care about the fallen dominoes, as long as the person in charge gets what he or she wants.  When you have to consult with others you get "problems", which is why some people prefer to dictate rather than to solicit input from others; some people do not want to be presented with "problems".

I saw government in the microcosm of our staff meeting today.


maxutils said...

While each of the points you made about not supporting a later start time is completely valid, you left out the most important one: it would accomplish nothing. Those studies that suggest a later start time is beneficial are based on the supposition that it allows students more time to sleep... but, that's not true. You haven't changed the number of hours in a day, you haven't changed the length of the school day, and you haven't changed the students' workload. All you've done is shifted it by half an hour. You could accomplish the same thing by suggesting students go to to bed half an hour earlier ... which would impact no one. This policy might have a short term positive effect, but I guarantee that it would not be long before the students would just be staying up later. All you've done is shift things half an hour, and inconvenienced a lot of people. The only way to get better rested students is to reduce their out of class workload ... don't assign work just to assign it. My particular peeve is the common practice in English classes of assigning reading (good) and then also requiring a reading log summary of said reading, to prove they read it (ridiculous ... especially since the teacher obviously never reads the work). The microcosm of government argument is perfect ... you can't impose your will upon people; you can only provide incentives. And when you do, people will respond to them.

momof4 said...

Two of my kids attended a HS with a late start and zero-hour options, as did my niece and nephew. In both schools, zero hour was very popular, especially among the most able and motivated students. At all of my kids' high schools (3), many kids had early-morning athletic practices (swimming, hockey, soccer, gymnastics, tennis etc), either with school teams or with private clubs As a parent veteran of these (my swimmer and I left the house at 0400, up to 5 days a week), I've observed that motivation is the key. Kid who want to do well in academics and/or athletics will arrange their academic, athletic and sleep schedules to make it all work effectively. Those who don't care much, don't. Why should schools bend over backward to accommodate those kids who won't get to bed on time?

Auntie Ann said...

As someone who could not, ever, fall asleep before 1:30AM throughout high school, I can attest to the fact that there are adolescents who have wacky sleep schedules. I was going to bed--lights off--by 10:30, and lying awake for 3 hours hoping to fall asleep. Day after day after day. I'm shocked I did as well as I did on only 5 hours of sleep a night.

How many teens have that problem? How many of them have a less-severe form where they are simply not sleepy before 11 or 12? There is quite a bit of evidence that teens naturally want to live at a very different and later schedule from the rest of the world.

But, actually allowing them to work on their schedule is nearly impossible for the reasons cited here. Just the fact that many teens are driven to school, and have to be on their parents' morning schedule, throws the whole idea of later start times out the window. What's the point when the parents have to drop them off at the old time anyway.