A later start to a better day

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YAWNNNN . . .  While many have trouble getting to the office by nine, teachers and high school students in Montgomery County, Maryland (and many other places) have the Herculean challenge of being in a first period class by 7:25 AM.  This time of year, that's less than 15 minutes after sunrise! As a high school teacher in Montgomery County, I've longed for a later wake-up call for both personal and professional reasons (maybe students will be more than half-awake during first period!), but worried about who would have to suffer (my elementary-school aged children?) to make it happen.

There is copious research supporting the need for later start times for high school students, but it's easier said than done. Changing a school's start time can kick off a chain reaction involving bus schedules, sports practices, school meal times and after school jobs, among other things. Traditional approaches to changing start times involve swapping the early start time for high school students with elementary students (a solution that can put young children out at dark bus stops and leaves parents to deal with longer afternoons of  expensive after care) or increasing busing availability (which comes with a steep price tag). Lucky for students and parents in Montgomery County, Maryland, the district seems to have tackled a different, and perhaps bigger, problem while addressing the first.

Dr. Joshua Starr, Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, recently announced his support for pushing back the start time for high schools and, rather than swapping schedules with other schools, the plan proposes to add 30 minutes to the elementary school day. This move would bring Montgomery County more in line with the length of the school day in other school districts. By the district's own admission, this is the second shortest elementary school day in the state of Maryland. Only Prince George's County has a shorter day at six hours.

Of the school districts NCTQ tracks with available data, only 12 have a shorter elementary student school day than Montgomery County. Twenty-nine districts -- nearly 65 percent -- have a school day that is longer by an average of just under 26 minutes, almost exactly the amount of time the superintendent is proposing to add to the elementary student day. This proposal would add the equivalent of nearly 14 days of instruction to the elementary school schedule. Hats off to a superintendent who supports creative problem-solving, and in turn, gets two outs from one pitch!