Friday, September 01, 2006

Homeschooling Keeps Looking Better And Better

Interesting piece in the WSJ. A 7:20 AM start time for highschoolers? No wonder teenagers tend to be a bunch of sullen adult-haters!

As a father of two teenage boys, I can attest to the fact that the single greatest teen crisis in America is not drugs, alcohol, smoking or early sexual activity, but sleep deprivation. Tuesday marks the start of the school year in our district in Fairfax, Va., and for the better part of the next nine months my kids will shuffle through the day resembling the zombies from "Night of the Living Dead." The reason that so many kids today appear to be slouching toward Gomorrah is simply that they lack sleep.

Waking teens from their deep REM sleep before 7 a.m.--which during late fall and winter is well before the rooster crows--is much like approaching a lion gnawing on an antelope carcass. All the niceties that we've tried to instill in our children for the past 15 years about honoring thy mother and father go flying out the window in these wee hours of the morning. Breakfasts from now until June will be as somber as the death row inmate's last meal. We shovel frosted flakes down their throats so that the temporary sugar fix arouses them out of their comatose state long enough to get them out the front door.


It's astonishing that a community like Fairfax, which prides itself on the quality of its public schools, retains a 7:20 a.m. start time despite the detriment to the health and scholastic achievement of our kids. Parents with teens are in open revolt to the idiocy of the policy and have even started a Web site,, to fix it.

The school board insists that an 8:30 a.m. start time would cost the county some $40 million a year, because of unalterable bus schedules. Incredible. The legislators in our state just passed a $2 billion tax increase, the largest ever, to fund the latest education fads, like higher teacher pay and smaller class sizes--which studies all show will have almost no effect--but they can't afford a policy at a fraction of the cost that will do far more to benefit kids in terms of improved behavior, attendance, mood, health and test scores.

This controversy over early school start times is raging in hundreds of communities today, pitting parents against unbending school bureaucracies. Surveys of teen's parents in school districts with early start times find that as many as 90% favor a later starting bell. If ever there were a case study in how public school boards ignore the wishes of their "customers," it is this.


Studies show that spurting growth hormones in teens alter their circadian rhythm and naturally turn them into night owls, physiologically uninterested in 9:30 p.m. bedtimes and fiercely opposed to 6:15 a.m. wake-up calls. (This fact suggests that I myself am still in late puberty.)

So here is the inevitable ritual: Kids trudge through the week on insufficient sleep, barely limp to the finish line on Fridays, use the weekends to pay off the week's sleep debt by snoozing until noon and then try to readjust their body clocks on Monday morning. Prof. Jim Moss, a sleep expert at Cornell, says: "It's as if at the start of every week our kids have West Coast to East Coast jet lag." He finds that in the early morning classroom "the overwhelming drive to sleep can replace any chance of alertness, cognition, memory or understanding."

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