While most experts agree that later start times benefit high school students, it is unclear what later school start times mean for younger students.
The M-A Chronicle surveyed over 200 elementary and middle schools across the state of California, analyzing school start times before and after the passage of SB-328. We found that following the passage of SB-328, 30% of the over 200 elementary and middle schools surveyed across the state moved to earlier start times. 37% of those elementary and middle schools had start times earlier than 8:00 a.m., the recommended start time for middle schoolers in the state law (no recommendation exists for elementary schoolers).
It’s still unclear how much early start times influence elementary and middle schoolers. One study conducted by Hanover Research for Buck’s County, Pennsylvania found that “Earlier elementary school dismissal means that parents may have to rely on child care providers for after-school care,” because of overlaps with the working day. This need is compounded by “later high school dismissal, mean[ing] that older students are not available to take care of their younger siblings.”
As for sleep, the jury is still out. A Boston University study published in the Sleep Health journal by Dr. Rhoda Au et al. analyzing a single elementary school found that “school start time change[s] did not decrease total amount of sleep.” However, a Kentucky University study published in the American Psychological Association trade journal found that, for elementary schoolers, “Every additional minute later in the school start time increased retention rates by 0.2%. […] [E]arlier start times were related to poorer test scores, lower school rank, and more student absences,” concluding that “earlier school start times can be associated with poorer school performance in elementary schools.” Earlier studies in 2007, 2002, and 1998 support these findings.
It can seem like elementary schoolers have fewer sleep problems than high school students. However, in the National Sleep Foundation’s 2004 Sleep in America Poll, researchers found that 25% of students from first through fifth grade slept less than the recommended amount for their age group. This sleep deprivation has developmental consequences for elementary schoolers, including, according to the CDC, “obesity, type 2 diabetes, poor mental health, and injuries. They are also more likely to have attention and behavior problems, which can contribute to poor academic performance in school.”
The M-A Chronicle audit found that of all schools surveyed, 30% had earlier start times, which is concerning by itself.