Sleepy Kids Learn Less

I’ve posted before that ever though most homework doesn’t seem to help learning, I predict we’ll keep assigning it, “to get kids used to doing a lot of work, in preparation for their future industry era jobs.” Similarly, I predict we’ll keep making kids start school early, even though that hurts learning:

This study identifies the causal effect of school start time on academic achievement by using two policy changes in the daily schedule at the US Air Force Academy along with the randomized placement of freshman students to courses and instructors. Results show that starting the school day 50 minutes later has a significant positive effect on student achievement, which is roughly equivalent to raising teacher quality by one standard deviation. (more)

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  • Douglas Knight

    You made this prediction a few months ago. But it’s not a terribly precise prediction. It is widely reported that 80 districts have changed their start times in the name of learning. In a comment, RJB linked to Ithaca’s decision to change, which included this concrete list of 21 districts that that discussed change, of which 15 changed and 5 rejected change.

    Your previous prediction was “once news of this study spreads,” which makes it even harder to evaluate.

  • rapscallion

    Isn’t the important constraint on school start times the average parent work start time? As long as the latter doesn’t change, you really can’t do much with the former.

    • http://www.gwern.net/education-is-not-about-learning gwern

      Not really. In middle school and high school and (most obviously) college, kids ought to be able to wake up and prepare for school and get out to the bus stop on their own. Even in this infantilized era, kids already manage as much. There’s no reason elementary school kids couldn’t do as much.

      And also, the usual scheme is to invert the status quo by starting kindergarten/elementary in the early slots and middle and high school progressively later. The middle and high school slots would be past parents going to work, but that’s OK! The parents won’t have to struggle to get the younger kids up, either, because young kids naturally get up very early (as I remember very clearly from my own childhood and 3 siblings, and the research seems to confirm).

      • Michael Kirkland

        Will they, though? We would have to weigh the advantages of a later start time against a higher absentee rate. We’d have to know what that rate would be to judge.

      • Douglas Knight
    • Michael Wengler

      With small kids and no stay at home parent, “wrap-around” care is required. With parents who need to go to work early, the wrap-around would include more at the early end and less after school.

  • http://www.gwern.net gwern

    Link is paywalled and doesn’t even provide a title, much less an abstract.

    • http://www.gwern.net gwern

      Googling, found http://ideas.repec.org/a/aea/aejpol/v3y2011i3p62-81.html “A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Start Time on the Academic Achievement of Adolescents”

      • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

        I changed the link in the post to this one.

  • Buck Farmer

    Sing it from the rooftops!

    Now what’re the knock-on effects of less effective learning but more compliant drones?

    Positive, negative, unknown net social welfare?

    Personally, it’s horrific, but I’ve learned not to extrapolate too much from what I’d choose for myself or my children.

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  • Karen

    Agh, I’m 51 years old, and I still remember how hard it was to get out of bed as a middle-schooler/high-schooler. Some days the only thing that would get me out of bed was my dad asking me to pick out his tie. (Dad couldn’t match suit/shirt/tie to save his soul, or at least so he pretended.)

    Kids just need a LOT of sleep, and it’s difficult, given TV and other distractions, to get them to bed early enough. It was especially difficult to get me to bed, given that Dad worked in his home office until 2 or 3 in the morning, caught a few hours of sleep, and then went into work the next day bright and early.

  • Parker D Hicks

    Purely anecdotal, but I lived through this change (USAFA ’09). Holy cow, did it make a difference. Walking to breakfast in the dark was horribly depressing, and shifting everything later increased productivity and participation in extracurricular activities.

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