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How Later School Start Times Could Translate to Billions for the Economy

If students were allowed to sleep in a little longer during the week, it could pay off in billions for the country’s economy.

It’s no secret that a lack of sleep can have a negative effect on one’s ability to focus. It’s a common struggle for many teenagers with an estimated 62 percent of high school students getting less than the recommended eight hours of shut-eye a night. Because of this, many school districts have felt a push to put later start times in place in order to help students get a little more rest. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends middle and high schools start at no earlier than 8:30 a.m., though 93 percent of U.S. high schools start earlier.

Later school start times aren’t just beneficial to student health, but can have positive economic upturns as well, according to a new report. Key findings laid out in a study by RAND, a nonprofit global policy think tank, suggests that delaying school times to 8:30 a.m. projects an economic gain of $8.6 billion to the U.S. economy.

So exactly where does this nearly $9 billion economic boost come from simply by moving school start times up an hour? Factors include lower numbers of car crashes by adolescents behind the wheel (because they’re not so sleepy) to higher academic/job performance from better rested students/employees.

The report is the first in-depth economic analysis of data for 47 states focused on the push back of school start times. “The benefit-cost projections of this study suggest that delaying school start times is a cost-effective, population-level strategy that could have a significant impact on public health and the U.S. economy,” wrote the study’s authors. The authors calculated that despite the costs of rescheduling transportation and after-school activities, that after five years, for every $1 spent, the return would be between $1.70 and $2.11.

One can’t help but wonder though, just what percentage of these impressive calculations on paper would actually translate over in reality. The Miami Herald reported that when the city’s school district tested out later start times several years ago students weren’t necessarily starting the school day more rested. A later school start time just meant they were going to bed later.

The 2014 program allowed 150 teens from several high schools to take one of their classes online, at any time of day, and come in after 8:30 a.m. instead of the standard 7:20 a.m. start time. Nearly 30 percent of the teens reported no additional sleep because they had just gone to bed later than normal.

With billions of economic dollars to be gained though, it’s likely more states will follow California’s lead in an effort to delay school openings. The tricky part is going to be convincing kids to turn the phone off and turn in for bed a little earlier to benefit from that extra hour of sleep.


Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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