Let's talk money.
In response to the public outcry over the Pittsburgh public
school district's proposal to move school start times one hour
earlier, Superintendent Linda Lane announced Friday that most high
schools would start only a half-hour earlier.
This is a step in the right direction, but starting high school
at 7:36 a.m. for most Pittsburgh teenagers is still too early.
Robust evidence has long demonstrated the adverse consequences of
early school start times for teenagers' academic, mental, social and
physical well-being. And no, they can't just go to bed earlier --
their hormones won't let them.
But while these points have been clearly and publicly
articulated, they have been largely ignored by the district, which
claims it could save $1.2 million a year on transportation costs by
moving start times one hour earlier. It still might do so at some
point. "We may have to revisit the student transportation plan in
the future" is how Superintendent Lane put it.
As a sleep researcher and clinical psychologist who specializes
in treating sleep problems, I am more qualified to comment on the
overwhelming scientific evidence demonstrating the potential damage
to teenagers of sleep loss due to earlier school start times, but
since the district appears more driven by financial concerns, let's
talk about whether earlier start times would actually save money.
School officials talk of spending less if the district transports
kids itself instead of buying them Port Authority transit passes.
But the potential savings of early school start times turn out
almost everywhere to be negligible and far out-weighed by the long-
term societal and public health costs of depriving adolescents of
sleep. In fact, a 2011 Brookings Institution study estimated that
delaying school start times by one hour -- moving them from roughly
8 a.m. to 9 a.m. -- would provide nine times the benefits compared
Why? Let's move on to ...
Reduced lifetime earnings
Keeping the ultimate goal of our education system in mind (to
prepare students to become contributing members of society),
evidence suggests that earlier school start times are associated
with significant reductions in academic achievement -- with the
strongest effects among the most economically disadvantaged
According to Brookings, "Early school start times reduce
performance among disadvantaged students by an amount equivalent to
having a highly ineffective teacher." This reduced performance,
Brookings scholars have calculated, translates into roughly $17,500
in reduced lifetime earnings per student.
The fact that earlier school times affect economically
disadvantaged students most is particularly alarming given that 71
percent of Pittsburgh public school students fall into this category
(that is, they qualify for reduced-price or free lunch). …