A Classroom Full of Zombies By Eric Doolin

The bell rings throughout the hallways and classrooms to signal the start of the day. Teachers open up their lessons and students take out their laptops and paper. Teachers scroll through presentations and recite facts to students who watch blindly. The information goes in one ear and out the other. Students cannot focus on anything but ignoring the loudest message in their brain: stay asleep. Lack of sleep is harming students everywhere and this is caused by early school start times. This premature start to the day causes students to be absent from the classroom, both physically and mentally. Moving back the start to the school day would reduce absences, increase productivity and raise test scores. Schools across the country argue that this is too expensive but, in states where attendance is linked to funding, a district can make $40 million per 1% rise, according to Megan Reilly, CFO for the Los Angeles Unified School District. The Center for Disease Control has recommended school start times be moved to 8:30 but, school districts still hesitate to make this simple change.

With the amount of homework and studying that is forced upon students today, teens are finding it increasingly difficult to get enough sleep. Having such early start times is decreasing the already limited sleep kids get. This could be solved by having a later start to the school day. Some schools across the country have recognized the great benefit of delaying the starting time to the school day. A study by Finley Edwards of Colby College showed that a one hour later start to the day lead to students receiving 3% higher grades on tests in math and reading. Judith Owens, a director of the Center for Pediatric Sleep Disorders at Boston Children’s Hospital, stated, “If you are asking teenagers to get up at 5:30 or 6, that is their lowest point of alertness in their 24-hour cycle. It’s at that point where their brain is most loudly saying ‘stay asleep.” With the early starts to school “Some kids are exposed to the same degree of sleep loss for four or five years,” she added. With students underperforming by 3% for four to five years, their education is being severely handicapped by the constraints of their school districts.

Teny M. Shapiro of Santa Clara University predicts that a one hour delay would have equivalent upside to acquiring teachers that are 34% more effective or reducing the class size by one third. With improvements this profound to a student’s academic development, it is astonishing that more school are not instituting this change to their schedule.

Many schools argue that changing the time that school starts would be too expensive. However, this couldn't be further from the truth. In Bonneville County, Idaho the school district saw a 15% drop in absences after implementing a later start to the school day. In states where funding is determined based on attendance, this could add $600 million according to Megan Reilly’s research. $600 million would have a dramatic impact on a school district and would greatly increase the quality of education throughout the country.

Another argument that is used to dismantle the idea of a later start time is the schedule conflicts that would occur for sports and other activities. However, this additional sleep would severely decrease the chance of injury among student athletes. In a study by the Los Angeles school district, they found that two thirds of student athletes that didn't get 8 hours of sleep would get injured. By having fewer injuries, the quality of the sports would vastly improve which is well worth the scheduling problems.

Teenage sports injuries would become much less common if the school day was moved back. (USA Today)

With students and teachers both reaping massive benefits from this change, there is no reason not to implement this change. It is efficient, profitable and healthier. No longer will students’ eyes gloss over during their morning classes. No longer will students need to chug Starbucks before entering school. No longer will teachers be “educating” a room full of zombies.

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