Earlier School Start Times for Elementary School Students (2023)

Earlier School Start Times for Elementary School Students (1)

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(Video) Do Early School Start Times Hurt Kids' Sleep Schedules?

The movement to have school districts move start times to later in the morning has been ongoing for years and has attained considerable momentum. School districts use multiple sources of information to guide their decisions, including feedback from their various constituencies (e.g. parents, teachers, students, coaches, transportation directors, administrators). They also rely on research that has been brought to bear on the topic, often soliciting the opinions of persons who have conducted the research. I have written several posts bearing on the matter with the first in September 2012: Can-later-start-times-affect-school-achievement

Here is another written in September 2013: Later-school-start-time-benefit-supported-more-evidence

And one in August 2015: The-mismatch-between-teen-sleep-and-school-timing

In all of those posts, I have voiced my support for moving times later for high school students in accordance with recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics and other professional organizations.

Individual school districts have been given guidance by one prominent advocacy organization, Start School Later. This organization has become very well organized and influential in advocacy, and has been instrumental in helping school districts work through the challenges of changing school policies regarding start times. Start School Later has a National Advisory Board comprised of health care professionals, researchers, legal professionals and others, all of whom have impressive credentials.

(Video) Do later school start times help kids and teens?

In most school districts, elementary, middle, and high schools have different start times driven by the need to have the same busses make two sets of trips morning and afternoon each day. Although there are some exceptions, in most cases, the first runs have been for high schools, and over the years high school start times became earlier and earlier. When districts have considered moving high school start times later, one frequent solution is to “flip” the schedules and have elementary schools start earlier. In the cases with which I am most familiar, there has been some pushback from parents of elementary school students, with parents reluctant to have start times moved earlier.

The body of research studies supporting later starts for high school students is substantial and has been convincing enough to provide a strong empirical rationale that has fueled the advocacy movement. The studies have been an important element in convincing school boards to change. Professional organizations have lent their support to school start times that allow adolescents the opportunity to get sufficient sleep, but there has been very little study of whether younger children, like adolescents, are affected by earlier start times. The possibilities are that (a) they are not affected at all; (b) that they are benefitted by earlier starts; and (c) they are adversely affected in some way.

In 2014, I wrote a post describing a study (Keller et al., 2015) showing that earlier start times for elementary students were associated with lower academic achievement scores. How-do-earlier-school-times-affect-young-students

The design of the study was correlational, and the authors were careful to point out that it could not be concluded that the earlier start times caused lower scores:

“ The current study is also limited by its cross-sectional design and data from only one state. Although we controlled for a number of potential confounding factors, including the racial composition of the schools and teacher–student ratio, we cannot infer that early school start times were the cause of school performance measures.” (Keller et al., 2015 p.243)

(Video) Are We Sending Kids to School Too Early?

The paper was published online in 2014 and a year later in Fall, 2015, Dr. Keller and I were both contacted by individuals involved in discussions about changing start times in the Wayzata, Minnesota public school district. A parent of an elementary school student had come across the paper and was making the case that the data should be part of the discussion. Shortly afterward, we were contacted by a University of Minnesota Senior Research Fellow who was serving as a consultant to the Wayzata school district. This person implied that there might be deficiencies in the research design and statistical analyses and asked Dr. Keller for access to the raw data so that a statistical consultant could review it.

I did not follow the ensuing events, and did not even know what was ultimately decided by Wayzata. A few weeks ago, I came across the final report which is available online: wayzata/starttimes. The report is 88 pages long including appendices and a good illustration of the time and energy school districts have been putting into making start time changes. The document includes feedback and opinions from parents, teachers, administrators (including athletics and transportation) and consultants, documentation of meetings held, preliminary studies, and recommendations. I was particularly interested in Appendix E, a memo written by a consultant. In the memo, the consultant reviews the Keller et al. (2015) study, and while offering faint praise for some aspects, the overall impression is that of discrediting its significance for the Wayzata debate. The consultant says, for instance, “In an otherwise well-crafted paper on school start-times, which demonstrates clearly the authors know their mathematics, the scientific work falls short.” and accuses the authors of trying to demonstrate that early start times caused the lower achievement scores for elementary students: “Correlations are presented as if implying causality. That is, the paper gives the impression that earlier school start-times cause poor student performance (due to an implied lack of sleep). In fact, nowhere is causality shown or proven.” The memo ends with the assertion “There are methods available to establish whether or not school start-times affect academic performance, whereas the research discussed here has not done so.” These comments were made in spite of the quote from Keller et al. (2015) paper above.

Contrary to the consultant’s blithe comment that “…there are methods available…”, determining cause and effect definitively in social science and education is extremely difficult, and in the case of school start times, pretty much impossible. For example, when the effects of new drugs are tested, the “gold standard” design is the double blind randomized control trial. The study is doubly blind because neither researchers nor the patients know whether they are receiving the drug or a placebo. Patients are assigned randomly to the experimental group receiving the drug or to the control group with the placebo. In the case of school start times, such a design is obviously not feasible. Whether a school was assigned to an earlier or later start would be patently obvious to all concerned, students, teachers, parents, and researchers. When studies are done to compare start times, they are necessarily correlational and cannot provide the most rigorous test of cause and effect.

While the full text of the Keller et al (2015) is not included in the Wayzata Report (a curious omission, given its comprehensiveness), Appendix H does contain the full text of a report based on a study of start times in Wayzata conducted by researchers at the University of Minnesota (Depuis, 2015). In that study, the author concludes that “…there is essentially no association between elementary school start time and middle school students’ academic achievement.” But goes on the caution, in a statement similar to that made in Keller et al (2015), that “…the data analyzed here were collected retrospectively and are observational in nature, which means that any observed differences between early and late start time elementary schools cannot be said to be caused by school start time.” It is worthwhile to note that the DePuis (2015) study is published as an in-house report, not in a journal where it would be subjected to critical independent review. Independent blind critical review by multiple reviewers is a foundation of science and stands in sharp contrast to the situation in Wayzata where one consultant (who was likely paid to do so), made some unfortunate comments on the adequacy of research design and conclusions of a study that was published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The question of whether flipping the bus schedules such that elementary students begin earlier is a good idea is a complex one. A new study just published in Sleep Health, a peer-reviewed journal (Keller et al. 2017) indicates associations between earlier starts and higher rates of behavior problems in elementary schools. The editors of Sleep Health have just issued a call for papers on school start time, and I will be interested to see if any other studies have even looked at outcomes for elementary school students. It is clear is that there are passionate advocates for later start times for adolescents – I am one of them. But I believe that advocates are misguided when they assume certainty that elementary students are not affected by earlier start times, and until more research has been done, I hope that those advocates will exercise good judgment in the meantime.

(Video) Some elementary schools may see early starts


Depuis, D.N. (2015). The association between elementary school start times and students’ academic achievement in Wayzata Public Schools. Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, College of Education and Human development, University of Minnesota.

(Video) Study: Starting School Day Later Has Significant Benefits For Kids, Families

Keller, P. S., Smith, O. A., Gilbert, L. R., Bi, S., Haak, E. A., & Buckhalt, J. A. (2015). Earlier school start times as a risk factor for poor school performance: An examination of public elementary schools in the commonwealth of Kentucky. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(1), 236-245.

Keller PS, Gilbert, L.R., Haak, E.A., Shuang, B., & Smith, O.A. (2017, in press). Earlier school start times are associated with higher rates of behavioral problems in elementary schools, Sleep Health (2017), http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.sleh.2017.01.004


What is the best start time for elementary school? ›

The American Academy of Pediatricians in 2014 (AAP 2014 in Meltzer 2017) recommended that adolescents should not start school before 8:30 am based on sleep research demonstrating that adolescents are in a stage of development where their circadian rhythms require 8.5/ 9.5 hours of sleep per night and the high quality ...

What is the most common time for school to start? ›

What Are Common School Start Times? In the United States, the average high school start time is 8:00 a.m. This time varies, though, depending on the state. Except for eight outlying states, each state's average start time is between 7:45 a.m. and 8:15 a.m.

What is the earliest time school can start in California? ›

Senate Bill 328 requires high schools to begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m. and middle schools no earlier than 8 a.m.

Why should school start earlier? ›

However, early start times do have some advantages that may be worth considering. Students who begin earlier have more time for after-school jobs and activities; schools may benefit by saving some money; and parents might find that an early start works better with their schedules.

Why do American schools start so early? ›

There are many reasons. Mostly, it's for convenience. Early start times allow parents to drop their kids off on their way to work. Also, they allow kids to be tutored after school, and athletes to travel to competitions without missing a significant amount of school.

Why schools should start at 10AM? ›

The change to 10AM produced positive changes in students' health and academic performance, which went back to baseline levels when the start time was moved earlier again.” Without adequate sleep, it can be difficult for students to focus in the classroom.

Should school start early or later in the morning? ›

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that middle and high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later to give students the opportunity to get the amount of sleep they need, but most American adolescents start school too early.

What time should I wake up if school is 7 30? ›

For kids who ride a school bus to arrive on time for a 7:30 am start, they would need to be at the bus stop by about 5:45 am. To have time to shower, eat breakfast, and walk to the bus stop, this could mean waking up before 5 am, something even many adults would find a nearly impossible task.

What time does California elementary school start? ›

8:00 am

Can California schools start before 8 30? ›

In 2019, California governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill Number 328 into law, mandating that high schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m., beginning with the 2022-2023 school year.

How long is a school day in California? ›

April 2018
California180 days Notes: Charter schools and select districts are required 175 days. More details may be found at: https://www.cde.ca.gov/fg/aa/pa/lcffitfaq.asp Citations: West's Ann.Cal.Educ.Code § 46200, 41420
Colorado160 days Citations: C.R.S.A. § 22-32-109
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What time does school start in Sweden? ›

For younger kids, school hours are typically 8:30 to 14:30. Older students start at the same time and leave around 15:00 or 16:00.

What time does school start in Italy? ›

School Hours in Italy

For most primary and lower secondary schools, classes tend to be from 8:00 and 13:00, Monday through Saturday. Other schools may only run from Monday to Friday, in which case, students would have a one-hour lunch break and classes until around 16:00.

What time does school start in Germany? ›

German students at public schools normally attend school in the morning. Classes normally start between 7:30 and 8:15 a.m. and can end between 12 noon and 1:30 p.m. Class periods are normally 45 minutes long with a short break in between.

What time do schools start in Japan? ›

In general, kids have to be at school by 8:45 am. School finishes around 3:15 pm, so they have to be in school for about six and a half hours every day from Monday to Friday. However, most kids also attend after-school clubs, and many also go to juku (cram school) in the evening to do extra studying.


1. Tavelli, Bennett & Shepardson Elementary School Start Times Will Be Later
(CBS Colorado)
2. CDC Says Kids Start Their School Day Too Early | NBC Nightly News
(NBC News)
3. Board of Education - Board Business Meeting - 10/25/22
4. HALLOWEEN’S COMING, Song for Early Years, KS1, Nursery, playgroups, Schools, young kids.
5. Later school start time means kids actually sleep more, study finds
(KTLA 5)
6. Why Do American Schools Have Such Long Hours?
(The Atlantic)
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