Jon Western: The benefits of later school start times cannot be discounted

Last modified: Sunday, March 30, 2014
To the editor:

In a recent letter, “Time for Northampton to come together for schools,” the writer lamented that the Northampton High School start time debate is reminiscent of the movie “Groundhog Day.”

I share her concern that there are many priorities in the city’s public schools. Yet, I disagree with her that this issue isn’t one of them.

There is clear and overwhelming social science evidence on the educational, health and safety benefits to our children in moving to a later start time. In a recent report out of the University of Minnesota, a group of researchers studying 9,000 students in three states revealed that later start times lift academic performance, including grades in math, English, science and social studies, plus performance on achievement tests, attendance rates and reduce tardiness.

They also found that car accidents for young drivers were reduced by 70 percent when schools shifted start times from 7:35 a.m. to 8:55 a.m.

And finally, they found that the chronic sleep deprivation associated with 7:30 a.m. start times leads to higher rates of depression, use of caffeine and puts kids “at greater risk for making poor choices for substance abuse.”

The letter-writer is correct that the school start time issue is a lot like the movie “Groundhog Day.” And, just as in the movie, where Bill Murray’s character is condemned to repeat that day until he makes the right decisions, with all of the evidence of the significant benefits of a later start time, we will continue to revisit this issue until we get it right.

It’s time to put the health, safety and educational well-being of our children first and move to a late start time.

Jon Western