New Castle News

Schools

September 5, 2013

Our Opinion: Would later class times improve student performance?

NEW CASTLE — A student who falls asleep in class may have problems with his or her grades.

That’s hardly an earth-shattering concept. Anyone who falls asleep or has trouble concentrating on the task at hand is bound to perform poorly.

For years now, many in the education community have said students are having trouble staying alert in class, because they are not getting enough sleep. As a result, their grades suffer.

The solution? One that has been bandied about in the past and is now being advocated by the United States secretary of education involves starting classes later in the day.

In a broadcast interview yesterday, Education Secretary Arne Duncan spoke in favor of later class times — while declining to call for a federal standard. He cited studies about youthful sleep patterns, academic achievement and related matters. Unsurprisingly, that research discovered that students who lack sufficient sleep see their grades suffer.

Researchers say that students today — particularly those in their teen years — are not getting enough sleep. And it is showing up in their classroom performance.

We have no doubt that all of this is true. But we wonder if starting school later in the day will solve the problem, or merely delay the inevitable.

Presumably, teens today aren’t getting enough sleep because they are staying up too late. The reasons may vary, but this is not a particularly difficult concept.

Holding classes later in the day might help, but only if teens go to bed at the same times as now and get up later in the morning. Would that happen, or would they simply stay up later, knowing they don’t have to get up as early?

Some researchers claim schools that started later hours saw improved student performance almost immediately. But is that trend maintained over time, as students opt to adjust their sleep schedules?

Altering school hours comes with consequences. For instance, it might impact after-school extracurricular activities or jobs many students have. And if teens are up later at night, that might be an enticement to engage in activities that could get them into trouble.

We suppose all the research on student sleep patterns will prompt some school districts to alter their schedules. Over time, this should produce measurable results to determine if it indeed makes sense to start classes later in the day.

But we wouldn’t be surprised if the best answer here is for parents to step in and make sure their children are in bed earlier. School officials ought to encourage that if they have evidence that lack of sleep is a problem.

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