Penn State research informs Pennsylvania report on school start times

Kristie Auman-Bauer
October 17, 2019

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Later school start times improve educational and health outcomes by giving students more sleep, according to a new report from the Pennsylvania Joint State Commission on School Start Times, released today (Oct. 17).

Orfeu Buxton, professor of biobehavioral health at Penn State, was asked to serve on the commission’s advisory committee after conducting research that demonstrated secondary school start times after 8:30 a.m. increases the likelihood teens obtain the minimum recommended amount of sleep, benefiting their overall health and well-being.

“We know that most adolescents do not get enough sleep, and insufficient sleep has detrimental effects on the physical and mental health of teens,” said Buxton, also a Social Science Research Institute cofunded faculty member and editor-in chief (designate) of the journal Sleep Health.

The report, “Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents: The Case for Delaying Secondary School Start Times,” includes a study of secondary school start times in Pennsylvania; evaluates studies and initiatives by other organizations; assesses the effects of later school start times on the health, safety and academics of students; and contains recommendations on best practices to rollout later start times.

It is a result of the Pennsylvania Senate adopting Senate Resolution 417 one year ago, directing the commission to appoint an advisory committee of state education officials, school administrators, school board members, pediatricians, school transportation officials, teachers, parents and students.

Delaying school start times falls in line with recommendations made by several professional organizations, including the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which has declared delaying school start times to have the greatest potential to impact possible public health interventions for increasing sufficient sleep among adolescents.

The report notes that the ideal school start time recommended by informed medical organizations and supported by scientific evidence is 8:30 a.m. or later, not the 7:30–7:59 a.m. start times that the majority of Pennsylvania school districts currently employ. The report also recommends no early practices and rehearsals or activities scheduled before the official start time, and that sleep health literacy be a part of school health curriculum.

“I believe this to be one of the most comprehensive reports on school start times to date and provides a road map for districts on how to best structure the school day for students’ educational, safety and health needs,” Buxton said. “Ongoing education about sleep health is a national public health priority and delaying secondary school start times is an opportunity to foster life-long healthy habits that benefit everyone.”

Earlier this week, California became the first state in the nation to mandate later start times for most middle school and high school students.

“School districts in Pennsylvania seem to be keen to get the new report, which should make the task of evaluating school start time policies easier,” said Buxton.

Locally, the State College Area School District instituted later start times for their secondary schools last year. The district is one of the two percent of Pennsylvania school districts starting the school day after 8:30 a.m. More information on this initiative can be found on the school district’s webpage on “Transitioning students into new sleep patterns.

For more information on the report, Yvonne Llewell Hursh, project manager of the commission advisory committee, and Glenn Pasewicz, executive director of the Joint State Government Commission, will be presenting at the Bucks County Intermediate Unit at 6-8 p.m. on Oct. 22, and via a Pennsylvania School Boards Association webinar at noon on Oct. 31.

Additional information on later school start times can be found in the TED talk “Why school should start later for teens,” by Wendy Troxel, senior behavioral and social scientist at RAND Corporation and member of the commission advisory committee.

Buxton’s research in the Fragile Families Study was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development of the National Institutes of Health, as well as a consortium of private foundations.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated May 12, 2020