Two-thirds of NYS high schools start before 8 a.m.

On Board Online • November 25, 2019

By Paul Heiser
Senior Research Analyst

Most high schools in New York start the instructional day before 8 a.m., the time at which a growing number of research studies say students should just be waking up, according to an analysis by Start Schools Later, a group that advocates for later school starting times.

The analysis found that 66% of high schools begin their first period or home room before 8 a.m., while 13.5% begin before 7:30. Three percent of high schools start at 8:30 or later. The average start time is 7:48, with dismissal at 2:35.

According to Max Van Gilder, the coordinator of the New York affiliate of Start School Later, he compiled the data over the summer with the help of a group of student interns. They put together a list of all the start times for high schools (as well as middle and most elementary schools) in school districts outside of New York City. The data are comprised of 649 high schools in 636 school districts across the state, not including BOCES, special purpose high schools and alternative high schools.

A separate dataset was compiled that included schools with so-called "zero periods," which is an optional academic period that is offered before the start of the regular school day to students who want to take extra classes. The analysis identified 18 high schools with such extra periods. When factoring in zero periods, the number of high schools with starting times earlier than 8 a.m. increased from 430 to 440.

"Zero period often moves a reasonable start time to an unreasonable one," Van Gilder told On Board. "The zero period often affects the most academically focused students by moving their start time to one period earlier and depriving them of sleep."

A growing body of research has determined that there is a shift in sleep patterns starting in adolescence. Most teenagers naturally fall asleep around 11 p.m. or later, but the amount of sleep they need each night - between 8.5 and 9.5 hours - is the same as when they were younger.

One study of 178 sophomores in Seattle conducted during the 2016-17 school year found students typically get only about 6.5 -7 hours of sleep when their school day begins at 8:00 or earlier.

"This sleep deprivation can cut REM sleep by 30-50%," said Van Gilder, which limits the restorative aspects of sleep. For instance, "reaction times in sports are impaired and injuries more common" among the sleep-deprived.

A study from the University of Minnesota that included 9,000 high school students found that grades, test scores and overall performance in core subjects advanced significantly when their schools' start times were switched to later hours. The same study found lower incidents of tardiness, truancy and dropouts.

However, districts that change high school start times often have challenges involving transportation. Also, starting school later means finishing later, which can affect after-school activities, including interscholastic sports schedules. It can also impact teens with after-school jobs and those who are depended upon to watch younger children before parents get home from work.

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