City schools test later start times. Pols want to know what they’ve learned
Public schools across the city of Seattle recently found that delaying school start times led to better grades, fewer latenesses and — simply put — more sleep for students.
Now, a group of New York City lawmakers is asking that the Department of Education emulate the idea, which they claim the city agency has already tested through a tight-lipped pilot program.
Councilmember Mark Treyger, who chairs the council’s Education Committee and is the lead sponsor of a bill that would reveal the pilot’s findings, told the Brooklyn Eagle that — although most city schools start their day after 8 a.m. — more than 50 middle and high schools across the city currently start classes even earlier.
Treyger said that, of those schools, the DOE selected five for a “school start-time pilot program” at his request — the results of which were never made public.
“What [the DOE is] telling me, anecdotally, is that they saw overall improvement,” he said. “They apparently saw fewer latenesses, better attendance and that it did improve academic performance.”
A spokesperson for the agency confirmed these findings to the Eagle.
“We want students to have the strongest opportunity to succeed in the classroom, and expanded our start-time pilot to 14 more schools this year,” Press Secretary Miranda Barbot said. The schools already taking part have seen good results, and the pilot has gotten favorable reviews from both students and staff, she said.
Treyger’s bill — co-sponsored by six other councilmembers — would keep the agency’s feet to the fire, requiring the DOE to immediately report on those results, beginning with releasing the names of participating schools, the start times tested and other key factors and findings.
“It seems to me that the DOE has already done the legwork here, they just have not shared their findings,” he said. “This legislation will have them act upon it, and give us a better understanding of how schools are factoring in responsible scheduling. It will also allow us to make sure scheduling and other programing is built around the needs of students.”
According to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine, it’s recommended that adolescents get about nine hours of sleep a night. The National Sleep Foundation found that children between the ages of 6 and 13 should be getting between nine and 11 hours of sleep and that teens should be getting between eight and 10.
With morning commutes, homework and extracurriculars in mind, Treyger told the Eagle, it’s no wonder why students aren’t hitting those marks.
“When I was teaching a 7:30 a.m. Regents class, I remember a number of my students would routinely come in late, be it because of MTA problems, a long commute in general, or simply from not getting enough sleep,” said the lawmaker, a former history and economics teacher at New Utrecht High School in Bensonhurst.
“When you hear that some students have to take two trains and two buses to get to school, it really speaks volumes to these kids’ suffering,” he went on. “They are not getting enough sleep and, back when I was a teacher, that definitely was affecting their ability to learn and get to school on time.”
Tamara Stern — a Brooklyn parent with children in elementary, middle and high school — said she’s all for a later start time.
Her son, who currently has to be at school at 8:35 a.m., leaves at 7:50 a.m. to make sure he’s on time. “Imagine how early he would have to leave if he started earlier,” she said. “Kids need to have at least six to eight hours of sleep and, when school starts earlier than 8, there’s no way they’re getting it. I tell my kids all the time, ‘You can’t be falling asleep at school — that’s your job.'”
The system would also help for morning drop-off, she said. “I think it would help a lot of parents — and I think it would help a lot of middle and high-schoolers who maybe have to help drop their younger siblings off at school,” Stern said. “And it’ll help with traffic. It’s like a win-win.”
Beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, Seattle public schools delayed the first bell nearly an hour, from 7:50 a.m. to 8:45 a.m. A group of sophomore biology students equipped with smart watches helped track results at each school, and later found that students were getting an extra 34 minutes of sleep on average. They were also more alert and engaged in class, had better final grades and were absent or late less frequently.
But there were drawbacks, too. Some Seattle parents and educators found that, by delaying school start time, some extracurriculars ran as late as 10:30 p.m. — thus negating the intended aid on sleep for those students. There were also issues with busing and safety concerns for students traveling home after-hours.
These things can be worked out, Treyger said, starting with the release of the DOE’s findings — which, he added, will also shed a light on when students are eating lunch.
“Because of scheduling issues and conflicts, some students are having lunch at 9 a.m.,” he said, noting that by delaying school start time, the DOE would likely also curb the number of students who are forced to eat lunch at breakfast time. “That’s not responsible scheduling. Something very clearly needs to be done, and I think it starts with getting these results.”
“We will share data with the council when it’s available,” Barbot said.
The legislation will be voted on by the Education Committee Tuesday afternoon. It is also sponsored by Councilmembers Brad Lander, Barry Grodenchik, Andrew Cohen, Diana Ayala, Laurie Cumbo and Ben Kallos.
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