|School Start Times Task Force Study: Executive Summary|
On February 19, 2014, Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS) Interim Superintendent Mamie J. Perkins formed a 15-person task force in response to community concerns about the current start time of AACPS’ high schools and its impact on student health, safety and learning. Over the subsequent six month period, the School Start Times Task Force (Task Force) was charged with thoroughly examining school start times at all levels of the school system, culminating in a formal report to be submitted to the Anne Arundel County Board of Education in September 2014. Task force participants represented a number of community, and school system organizations, reflecting a broad cross-section of Anne Arundel County.
The Task Force met regularly over six-months, volunteering countless hours gathering, sharing, reviewing and discussing pertinent information related to the charge given them. Task Force members reviewed a plethora of relevant medical, social, and behavioral research regarding students, sleep and school performance as well as work previously conducted within AACPS and other districts of comparable size. Through input and data provided by the AACPS Divisions of Transportation and Budget and Finance, the Task Force was able to carefully review potential implications, including financial implications of altering school start and end times. Ultimately, the Task Force developed options regarding changes to school start times at all levels (elementary, middle, and high schools).
Fundamental Beliefs & Assumptions
While studying the many complex elements related to the importance and potential move to a later school start time for students, especially our high school students, the AACPS School Start Times Task Force was guided by the following fundamental assumptions:
Guided by these assumptions, the AACPS School Start Times Task Force reviewed prior school start time studies and discussed multiple ways to adjust the start times of high schools, middle schools, and elementary schools to ensure adolescents more sleep. The Task Force looked at options considered by other school systems throughout the nation and locally, especially those put forth by neighboring Fairfax County, VA. Following several months of work, the Task Force proposed its own unique set of options designed to address the issue of school start times in Anne Arundel County Public Schools. While designing each option, the Task Force deliberated the following questions:
Additionally, the Task Force identified the following areas as likely to experience significant impact due to a change in school start times: Health, After School Activities & Sports, Before & After School Care, and Transportation. In order to further understand the impact of later school start times on these areas, the Task Force engaged in a deep analysis of each area through interviews and conferences with experts and targeted school systems who have implemented later school start times across the region and country.
Based on an analysis of the areas listed above, the Task Force concluded that extra sleep potentially gained by starting school later would be beneficial for adolescents, particularly high school students. Task Force members spent almost three months identifying the potential impacts of moving school start times on AACPS students, their families, AACPS employees and the greater Anne Arundel community. These impacts— positive and negative (most impacts cut both ways) —informed the Task Force’s final choice of options. As would be expected in any group, particularly one as large as the AACPS School Start Times Task Force, there was healthy disagreement on the magnitude of these potential impacts. Specifically, Task Force members, representing numerous stakeholder groups, debated on whether an impact was positive or negative and to what degree stakeholders were potentially impacted. Most critically, the Task Force members discussed whether the overall positive benefits of later start times outweighed the potential negative effects. They determined that later school start times was worthy of consideration and could be achieved in an acceptable way. They then produced four start-time or bell-schedule options for the Board of Education’s consideration. Finally, the Task Force analyzed each of the four options through a financial lens to attach an estimated price to each option. During the financial discussions, the Task Force reviewed and recognized the potential cost benefit of implementing transportation software as an efficiency and cost-saving contributor to the proposed School Start Time options.
After extensive discussions, including significant input from the AACPS Transportation and Budget Offices, the AACPS School Start Times Task Force has determined that later start times can be achieved in an acceptable way, and offer four bell schedule options that achieve this goal. These are offered as starting-point model options designed to generate further investigation and discussion:
These options are explained in detail on the School Start Times Task Force website located at www.aacpublicschools.org. Also included on the website is research regarding the impact of school start time changes on a student’s physical and mental health, safety, academic achievement, and equity.
If the AACPS Board of Education chooses to move forward to consider adjusting future school start times, the Task Force recommends the following next steps:
Overall, the Task Force concluded that school schedules can take many shapes and sizes in order to meet the needs of students. It is evident that some school districts across the nation have been able to implement various school schedules that include later school start times and they have ensured that the needs of students were met and the health of students prioritized.