The Best Time to Learn: The High School Start Time Debate

What time did your high school start?  For me, the bell rang at 7:30 AM sharp.  I only lived 10 minutes away from school and had my own car, so I usually did not have to wake up until 6:45 AM (or 7:00 AM if I was feeling extra sleepy or unmotivated).  For my friends who either had to take the bus or drive a longer distance to get to school, they had to wake up by 6:00 AM at the absolute latest.  For student government, we often had class meetings before school started; on those particularly rough days, I would need to show up on campus by 6:30 AM.

For my readers who had 7:30 AM start times (or a time close to mine), how many times did you fall asleep in class at any point during the school day?

So, how many times did I end up falling asleep at some point during the school day?  To be frank with you: too many to count.

What is the purpose of early start times?  What are the potential benefits?  A Classroom article written by Rachel Pancare explains the potential good in early start times.  For those who participate in extracurricular activities, having an early start time (and a subsequent early release or end time) allows more time for those activities to happen.  My high school day ended at 2:25 PM – not too shabby.  For the people who also work after school, having more time in the afternoon and evening to balance a job plus extracurricular activities is very helpful.  Similarly, having more time in the afternoon and evening to dedicate towards homework gives students the opportunity to have free time to relax and do activities totally removed from school.

With those benefits in mind, it is pretty easy to assume some of the biggest drawbacks of having a later start time implemented for high school students.  As this U.S. News article explains, “practices are later for athletes, musicians and actors…which pushes back these students’ entire evening and often doesn’t result in any additional sleep for these students.”  According to the article, one Seattle high school’s decision to start the school day at 8:45 AM led to many after-school scheduling conflicts: some extracurricular activities were forced to be moved “before school because practices were running until 10:30 PM due to gym availability.”

Now that I’ve brought up the benefits of having an early start time and the consequences that may arise from having a later start time, lets talk about the latter’s benefits.

According to a recent study involving 30,00 high school students, 29 schools in seven states found “that graduation rates and attendance rates both went up in the two years after schools pushed start times to at least 8:30 AM.”  As Business Insider explains in this article, the benefits experienced by the schools participating in the study are impossible to ignore:

“Dobbs Ferry Superintendent Dr. Lisa Brady tells Business Insider that the schools there have experienced tremendous benefits. Following a survey issued at the end of the 2015-2016 school year (the first full year with later start times), Brady says ‘it was clear from both the parents and the kids, overwhelmingly, that the mornings were just less stressful.’

Many of the kids reported having more time to eat breakfast and get ready for school, while parents said they didn’t have to drag kids out of bed or yell at them to hurry up. Once students got to school, they felt more alert. At night, they tended to reported going to bed at the same time, even though the new schedule freed up an extra 45 minutes.”

Readers – what do you think?  What is the best time to start the school day?

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One Response to The Best Time to Learn: The High School Start Time Debate

  1. haydenvick says:


    I have never been a morning person, and in fact my mother had to wake me up every morning up until graduation. My immediate reaction is that later start times are much better, but the pros and cons of both suggest that in order to create well-rounded students, earlier start times may still be better to keep school from consuming most of the day. From athletes to student government officers, everyone needs time for extracurricular activities, and so I am personally still for starting the day early. Thanks for a great post!



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