Maryland Commissions Study on Students’ Sleep Needs


A study has been commissioned by the Maryland legislature to investigate the sleep needs of teens and the effects of changing school schedules to accommodate sleepy students, reports Donna St. George of the Washington Post. State health officials will conduct the study.

Several counties in Maryland are already considering an 8:00 a.m. or later first bell. The legislative study would be the first statewide action.

The conversation as to the validity of this idea will take place among parents, health care organizations, doctors, boards of education, transportation experts, and more. The central issue revolves around whether or not schools are taking advantage of the daily schedule to assure students are at their most aware to learn, thus justifying the large amounts of money spent on public education.

Under the bill, the state study would review the science of children's sleep needs, looking at benefits of sufficient rest and how sleep deprivation affects academic performance. It also would probe how school activities were affected in districts that changed school hours.

Advocates for later high school start times point to research showing sleep deprivation is linked to such problems as depression, obesity and car crashes.

In Manassas, Virginia, according to a posting on InsideNova, the school board is asking for input on options for school start times and ending times. While in Ohio, the Lima Board of Education approved a measure which would allow one middle school push back its starting time from 8:45 a.m. to 7:30 a.m., citing several reasons for this change.

Jill Ackerman, superintendent for the district, stated that kids learn better earlier in the day. Craig Kelly, at CivitasMedia, says another factor that was being considered was parent drop-off and pick-up convenience and efficiency. Getting children to school would be easier when the schools have more aligned starting times. Along with that, earlier dismissal times would allow for tutoring sessions and faculty meetings in the afternoon.

North Olmsted, Ohio, however, is on the "let's let high school kids sleep" bandwagon. Bruce Geiselman, Northeast Ohio Media Group, reports that surveyed parents who have complained about early start times explain that there is research to back up the notion that later start times result in better performance during the school day.

The Social Science Research Network has published a study, by Finley Edwards, Colby College, Department of Economics, on the effect of start times on students' academic performance. The study took place in Wake County, North Carolina from 1999-2006. A 2 percentage point gain in math test scores was observed. A similar change in reading scores was found. Finley discovered that the effect was stronger for students on the lower end of the test score distributions. According to Finley, findings included: Evidence supporting increased sleep as a mechanism through which start times affect test scores. Later start times compare favorably on cost grounds to other education interventions which result in similar test score gains.

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