Yes, Starting School Later Is Worth Millions of Dollars

Sep 17, 2017 · 5 min read

Anyone who has been in high school can relate, it starts too early. Recently school district officials, parents, teacher, students, journalists, and even medical professionals have debated on whether to start school later. On the one hand, starting school later would improve students mental and social health. On the other hand, starting school later would require a lot of money that school districts don’t have. While I appreciate the arguments regarding some of the problems that might arise with starting school later, I believe taxes should be raised to get the funds to make this change happen.

Moriah Balingit’s The Washington Post article stresses how schools are going against pediatrician’s advice to start school later. Moriah Balingit, the journalist who wrote this article, points out:

“Teens who don’t get enough sleep are more likely to do poorly in school, be overweight and try tobacco, alcohol, and other drugs.”

When teens don’t get enough sleep, it not only affect their academic performance, but also interferes with their social and mental health. Balingit points out that doctors say, “Teens operate on different circadian rhythms, making it difficult for them to fall asleep before 11 p.m.”. This indicates that it is hard for teens to get the recommended 8.5 hours of sleep, since they typically don’t fall asleep before 11 p.m. and have to wake up to get ready for school at around 6 a.m. This article offers a perspective from medical professionals who use statistics and their knowledge to campaign for later school start times.

I agree with Moriah Balingit and her piece, “Pediatricians say teens should sleep in. Schools won’t let them”, because she uses advice from medical professionals. I cannot argue against what pediatricians say because they are professionals and are educated on why teens go to bed late but need a certain amount of sleep. I think that school districts need listen to what these professionals are saying about the need for later school start times, and they should change their schedule.

According to many school district officials, the main reason why schools aren’t changing their start times is due to the additional costs that would come with it. Teodora Zareva wrote an article suggesting, changing school schedules to start later could benefit the U.S. economy. Teodora Zareva, the person who wrote this piece, provides information from a paper published by the Brookings Institution that suggests what would happen if schools were to change their schedules, “It quoted a $17,500 lifetime earnings gain for students as a result of such reform, compared to a cost of $1,950 over a student’s school career”. Using this evidence, Zareva argues that the end result far outweighs the added costs that would accumulate if schools decided to change their start times. If everyone has an extra $17,500 to spend that would boost the economy. The article suggests, “These gains are estimated to come from higher academic performance (including higher likelihood to graduate from high school or college) and reduced car crash mortality”. Zareva considers the future impacts that changing school start times could have, and argues it is worth the added costs to do so because of the substantial difference it will ultimately make.

Jennifer Pignolet’s USA Today piece offers a response suggesting that it is not worth the money to start school later. Linda Fisher, a member of a district board in Tennessee, said “Everybody was definitely in agreement that it was the best decision for our students. It was the financial aspect that held it off a year”. Fisher and the board voted against later start times and decided to keep the start times of schools in their district the same as previous years for financial reasons. This gives the education community a look at why start times aren’t being changed. The added cost comes from transportation, since there would have to be more busses and bus drivers to get students of all grade levels to school at the same time. Fisher estimated the cost to make this change would be about $1 million over the next two years. This article suggests that the debate to start schools later is a matter of how much are you, as tax payers, willing to pay so that this change can take place?

I disagree with the article by Jennifer Pignolet titled, “If later school start times are better, why aren’t they more popular?”. This piece acknowledges that later school start times are better, but says the reason schools are not making this change is because of the cost that would be added. Pignolet argues that changing school schedules is not worth the cost that would be associated with it. I disagree with her because I think every school district should delay school by at least 1 hour. Medical professionals are saying that it is the right decision to make. Early start schedules are putting teens more at risk to get involved in bad situations that could put them in danger. Houston High School changed their schedule to have later start times, the principal, Kyle Cherry, said “I’m not seeing any bright, shiny, happy kids kicking their heels together”. I think that even though the students aren’t happier in the morning they can still be more rested and ready for the day. This article should have accepted that the funding to change school start times is a problem, but it needs to be addressed.

While a lot of articles are against starting school later due to additional costs, I found one on USA Today that argues changing school start times would bring disruption to many families. I think this is a very important point to be considered. Ted Velkoff, vice chairman of a Virginia school board and the author of this article, suggests that in this situation, “addressing a problem on one side creates a new one for the other”. The problems that Velkoff offers if the school schedule was to change are, it will result in reduced opportunities for students to participate in after school activities and athletics, but would also make job schedules and care for younger siblings difficult. These are big issues that would come up if the school schedule were to change.

Having early school start times is a major problem that needs to be fixed. A potential solution to this would be switching middle and high school start times with elementary school start times. Elementary schoolers get up early anyways, so they might as well go to school earlier and let the older kids sleep in and go to school later. This way, the bus schedules would just need to be flipped in the morning. But, the elementary schools would have to get out at the same time, or after high schoolers so that older siblings can pick up and care for younger siblings if needed. Also, middle and high school clubs and athletic practices could take place in the morning, that way it is the student’s option to sleep in or attend a practice or meeting. There would be a need for more money to hire bus drivers and purchase additional buses for the afternoon, and some costs would come up in order to extend elementary school by an hour. To accommodate this, I believe taxes should be raised and school districts should cut a little from each administrator’s salary and put that towards funding to make this new schedule a reality.