School Start Times for Middle School and High School Students — United States, 2011–12 School Year
by Anne G. Wheaton, PhD; Gabrielle A. Ferro, PhD; Janet B. Croft, PhD, US CDC, August 7, 2015
Adolescents who do not get enough sleep are more likely to be overweight (1); not engage in daily physical activity (2); suffer from depressive symptoms (2); engage in unhealthy risk behaviors such as drinking, smoking tobacco, and using illicit drugs (2); and perform poorly in school (3). However, insufficient sleep is common among high school students, with less than one third of U.S. high school students sleeping at least 8 hours on school nights (4). In a policy statement published in 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urged middle and high schools to modify start times as a means to enable students to get adequate sleep and improve their health, safety, academic performance, and quality of life (5). AAP recommended that "middle and high schools should aim for a starting time of no earlier than 8:30 a.m." (5). To assess state-specific distributions of public middle and high school start times and establish a pre-recommendation baseline, CDC and the U.S. Department of Education analyzed data from the 2011–12 Schools and Staffing Survey (SASS). Among an estimated 39,700 public middle, high, and combined schools* in the United States, the average start time was 8:03 a.m. Overall, only 17.7% of these public schools started school at 8:30 a.m. or later. The percentage of schools with 8:30 a.m. or later start times varied greatly by state, ranging from 0% in Hawaii, Mississippi, and Wyoming to more than three quarters of schools in Alaska (76.8%) and North Dakota (78.5%). A school system start time policy of 8:30 a.m. or later provides teenage students the opportunity to achieve the 8.5–9.5 hours of sleep recommended by AAP (5) and the 8–10 hours recommended by the National Sleep Foundation (6).
Every few years, the U.S. Department of Education conducts SASS, which provides data on the condition of elementary and secondary education in the United States. SASS consists of several questionnaires, including those tailored to schools, teachers, principals, school districts, and library media centers. SASS is a mail-based survey, with telephone and field follow-up, and uses a stratified probability sample design.† For the 2011–12 school year, the sample included about 10,250 traditional public schools and 750 public charter schools, with a unit response rate for public schools of 72.5%. As part of the school questionnaire in the 2011–12 school year, respondents were asked, "At what time do most of the students in this school begin the school day?" Because AAP recommends school start times of 8:30 a.m. or later for both middle schools and high schools, the analyses in this report include public middle schools, high schools, and schools with combined grades. Average start time (with standard error) and percentage distribution of start times were calculated by school level and state. Results are weighted to reflect the complex sample design and to account for nonresponse and other adjustments.
Among an estimated 39,700 U.S. public middle, high, and combined schools (with an estimated total enrollment of 26.3 million students), the average start time was 8:03 a.m. Forty-two states reported that 75%–100% of their public schools had early start times (before 8:30 a.m.) (Figure). Overall, only 17.7% of public schools (with an estimated total enrollment of 4.2 million students), started school at 8:30 a.m. or later (Table). The proportion was lowest for high schools (14.4%) and highest for combined schools (23.4%). The percentage of schools that started at 8:30 a.m. or later varied greatly by state, ranging from 0% in Hawaii, Mississippi, and Wyoming to 76.8% in Alaska and 78.5% in North Dakota. North Dakota and Alaska also reported the latest average school start times (8:31 a.m. and 8:33 a.m., respectively), whereas Louisiana reported the earliest average school start time (7:40 a.m.) and the largest percentage of schools starting before 7:30 a.m. (29.9%)....
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