Briggs: Studies should shed light on ideal time to start secondary schools

HARRISBURG, Aug. 20 – As students prepare to return to school in the coming weeks, state Rep. Tim Briggs said he is looking forward to seeing the results of a state study on the optimal morning start time for middle and high school students.

In recent years, the start time for secondary schools has been the subject of several studies and much discussion. A February 2014 study by the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement found academic performance outcomes -- including grades earned in core subject areas of math, English, science and social studies -- in addition to performance on national and state achievement tests, attendance rates and reduced tardiness, show significantly positive improvement with school start times of 8:35 a.m.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes insufficient sleep in adolescents as an important public health issue that significantly affects the health and safety, as well as the academic success, of our nation’s middle and high school students. It has recommended that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later. The later start time is recommended to address insufficient sleep, and the health problems that can result because of it.

Despite those findings, 93% of high schools and 83% of middle schools across the nation started before 8:30 a.m., according to findings from a 2014 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services study.  

The Joint State Government Commission is scheduled to release its report and findings in October. This was a study proposed by Briggs during the 2015-16 legislative session, and ultimately it was required by a resolution adopted by the Senate last year. While a few school districts in southeastern Pennsylvania have already adjusted start times, many other districts are beginning to explore the benefits, as well as evaluate potential negative impacts that may be associated with later school start times.

“The question of the appropriate school start time has intrigued me for years, and I’m excited to learn about the recommendations to best address this issue,” said Briggs, D-Montgomery. “Like many of you, I learned through various studies that the majority of adolescents are not getting enough sleep. This not only affects students’ performance in school, but it can have a negative effect on their health.

“Our end goal is seeing an improvement in our youth’s well-being and academic success. My hope is these recommendations will result in students experiencing an increase in the duration of sleep and their alertness at school.”