Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Middle school start time

It's been known for some time that, starting about puberty, kids need to sleep more and later. Well, now it's been partly quantified. In this study, 200 high school kids changed class start time from 8:00 to 8:30. Lots of good stuff followed:

  • Kids averaged 45 more minutes of sleep a night
  • Many fewer kids got less than 7 hours a night, and many more got over 8.
  • Significantly fewer kids said they went to the Health Center for fatigue-related problems
  • Kids felt less depressed
  • Students and faculty "overwhelmingly" voted to keep the later start time.
The one thing missing from here is either of the two things that will make a school board change: money and test scores. If they could show that starting later saved money by using less lighting, or air conditioning, or heating, or maybe buses use less fuel when traffic is a little lighter, school boards would listen. If the kids who started later got higher scores on standardized tests, school boards would jump on it. But that piece has not, as far as I know, been shown. It seems likely to be true, but I don't think anybody has actually made the link.

So why are school boards unlikely to change just because it's good for kids? After all, don't we always say we always do what's best for kids? Yes, we do say that. No, it's not true.

I spent a lot of time on a lot of committees when my issue flowed through public elementary and middle schools, especially elementary. I skipped the committee part of high school. But I spent a great deal of time with k-8 teachers and administration, some of which involved whether this one middle school could and should start an hour later. It could not by itself, because within a district, schedules are entirely run by the bus dispatcher. Any change you ask for, they say you can't do it because of this or that bus scheduling issue. The entire district could not, because teachers like to get out early. They like leaving in mid-afternoon, so they can run errands and do stuff they wouldn't have time to do if they left the campus at 5. They dance around it, but that's the fundamental reason schools don't start at 9.

On the general idea of "we do what's best for the kids," I was on a committee to decide how to spend Prop 63 mental health money. The local county mental health chieftan decided before we started that the child care piece would be parent education. The child care people went in hoping for mentors to go to sites to help providers learn to deal with kids with disabilities or challenging behaviors, as they're euphemistically called. No, that part was already decided, and we could see what we could salvage. 

Okay, we decide we're going to go into centers, identify kids with challenging behaviors, and do a dual training for parents and providers. Cool. Which centers? The people on the committee who worked for the mental health chieftan suggested Head Start. We said, no, Head Start already has a pretty good referral system. The ones who need it are Title 22 centers. They said, no, it's easier to get one MOU with Head Start than MOUs with all those little Title 22 centers. It's administratively easer.

Then, when the plan was announced, the lady in charge talked about how at every stage we were just concerned about what was best for the children of our county. I wanted shout, "You lie! You were concerned about administrative convenience."

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