THE CONFLICT BETWEEN SCHOOL START TIMES AND BIOLOGY: IF THE SUCCESS OF CHILDREN IS OUR GOAL, WHY DON’T WE ACT LIKE IT.

“What is the purpose of school?” my mentor asked of me when I was moved up into administration. I wrote high minded paragraphs citing everyone from Socrates to Neal Postman, that he tossed in the garbage. “Rich”, he said, “You have about 10 seconds or eyes will glaze over or you’ll sound like you’re shoveling S$*t.”

No quick answer came for a day or two until on a run on an old rail trail formed into an A-Ha moment. The next day, I tossed an index card on his desk. “That works”. “Now be it and use it”. I had written, The Purpose of School is to Provide Success Opportunities for Kids”. And I believed it then and now – throughout my education career as a district curriculum director, high school principal, consultant to state education departments, author, and speaker. Even when I moved to the corporate world marketing and designing learning, I held this belief in my heart. And yes, I’m a parent and now grandparent. I have a vested interest.

So, accepting this as a fair premise why are schools not living up to their responsibility? Is every decision, a ‘kid’ decision? And of course, the answer is no. In the educational-institutional-industrial complex (my term, feel free to use) admitting the problem and overcoming the status quo are challenges we’ve never acted upon.

Let’s check out some statistical knowns. And here is where the divergence of success opportunities and the exigencies of the real world collide. (The source of these are available at the end of the article)

FACT: Rise times are determined by a single factor—school start times. Delaying school start times for adolescents is often proposed as a policy change to address insufficient sleep and potentially improve students’ academic performance, reduce engagement in risk behaviors, and improve health.

Most adolescents may need at least 9 hours of sleep per night, yet, fewer than 8% of high school students report getting this amount.

Insufficient sleep in adolescents:


  • Failure to Pay Attention
  • Poor Academic Performance – Lower GPA
  • In general, poor mental health:
  • Depression
  • Suicidal Ideation
  • Alcohol Use
  • Tobacco Smoking
  • Marijuana Use
  • Prescription Drug Abuse
  • Unhealthy weight control strategies
  • Greater Sexual Activity
  • Bullying
  • School Violence-Related Behaviors
  • Physical Fighting
  • Unintentional Injury
  • Traffic accidents

Findings Summarized


Most studies demonstrate evidence that delaying school start time delaying rise times increases weeknight sleep duration among adolescents. Most studies signal an increase in sleep duration even with relatively small delays in start times of half an hour or so. Later start times also generally correspond to better attendance, less tardiness, less falling asleep in class, higher grades, and fewer motor vehicle crashes.

In younger adolescents and children, lack of adequate sleep results in poor mental and physical health to behavioral problems and poor academic grades. Insufficient sleep is linked to excess weight, decreased physical activity, and increased food intake, likely due to alterations in appetite-regulating hormones.

One of the early changes associated with puberty is an alteration of a child’s circadian rhythms—adolescents are more alert in the afternoons and evenings and need morning sleep. Their natural body clocks can keep them awake until 11 PM or later, despite going to bed earlier and practicing good sleep hygiene avoiding stimulating activity at night and minimizing caffeine intake in the afternoon or evening.

A brief history of schools and the educational-institutional-industrial complex


It’s no secret the daily schedule set by school start times is wholly illogical and an insult to student health and achievement. Parents and caregivers know all too well that hauling a teenager out of bed while it’s still dark, or as the sun is rising is not a pleasant undertaking. Breakfasting as a family is an anachronism. More often grabbing a snack, fruit, toast, even an ‘energy bar’ is the norm. Catching the bus, meeting friends, getting a ride, or even walking to a local school, hurries students of all ages to compress time, accelerating changes in biology from somnambulant to full cognition in shorter periods of time than is optimal.

FACT: The time between rising and leaving home is compressed as students want to get up as late as possible before they leave.

Children of all ages are processed as moving human freight to make the schedule work.


Admit it or not we have internalized the idea kids are a product. If we think if our children as unique—custom-built—they require individual and specific bioengineering to be whole. Instead, we have acquiesced to the one size fits all model – with exceptions for those with identifiable talents, vocational aspirations, or special needs. And this has been the tragic yield of the educational-institutional-industrial complex of school as a factory: The processing of as many products as possible, at the lowest cost, in the shortest time with minimal disruption to the standardized model while hoping for the best product quality.

There are two foundations that have created school as we know it:


1. The growth of school districts as a comprehensive operation is built on the industrial model – a modern post-war movement tied to time/motion studies learned from Ford’s (and others) assembly lines and rapid response to the production of materiel for the second world war. And its corollary, spending less money per student (not just for instruction – but in materials, supplies, tools, ‘factory’ maintenance, support personnel, insurance, food and drink – heat, air, light and water, and a safe plant) by the sheer scale and bargaining power optimizes costs. The arrival of students from far and wide at the same time is aligned to the ideal functioning of the ‘plant’. it has remained the status quo as substantive changes in education are tantamount to changing the direction of a large ocean-going container ship in one-hundred yards. Any core-level reconstitution will inevitably affect taxpayers – residential and commercial, municipalities, infrastructure, small businesses, and even roads and traffic.

The post-war population boom and movement to the suburbs meant the increase of students (today’s Baby Boomers), resulted in an explosion in building, staff, and district real estate. School districts are now major landholders, in some cases covering hundreds of square miles. While the instructional answer has been to build campuses of multiple buildings so fewer delivery points, replicating the collegiate model makes sense – but in older districts schools have remained in neighborhoods where housing has sprung up or in existence long before the burgeoning kiddie pool.

2. The crusade to get students to school at the same time to as few destinations as possible is fundamental as an effective way to deliver uniform instruction on the industrial model. School buses with fixed routes required multiple runs to deliver students of all ages from far-flung homesteads. In most but the smallest districts, each bus needs to load, discharge, and then start new runs to serve up more students to the education machine.

As for the inevitable question, “Why don’t parents bear the responsibility of getting their kids to school on time?” In most households, both parent’s or care-giver’s work and their responsibilities rarely align with the school schedule and physical adjacency. In urban areas, public transit carries students (at discounts) across cities.

This leads to the scheduling of transportation that, in larger districts, now demands complex software not unfamiliar to military planners – fuel, vehicles, (and stand-by’s) drivers, mechanics, monitors, parts, cleaning, timing and scheduling for departures,/turnarounds/ and redeployment, supervision through a chain of command, communications within the transportation complex and with schools planning for traditional emergencies and now a new type of crisis situations, weather, risk aversion and coordination. Not to mention managing the products; students-who pose a whole separate methodology of management.

Now’s is the conspicuous moment to ask: Knowing the biology of adolescents, why do older students have to be the shock (and shocked) troops, embarking earliest?

  1. They can take care of themselves, be at the bus stop with no supervision
  2. They are more wakeful when social and in tune with the adult world while their parents are getting ready to leave for work
  3. The bus pickup shelters or locations can be farther apart, meaning fewer stops and faster delivery
  4. They can often share the bus with middle school students, whose schools are often on the same campus and close enough in age so social conflicts can be minimized, often ameliorated by older, more mature students if not the bus monitor.
  5. Knowing how the system works means fewer instructions from the driver – and hopefully fewer distractions – faster at seating and ready to roll on time. They also understand the consequences if they hobble the system.
  6. Perhaps most importantly for some students is their need to work after school. An earlier dismissal time—by starting early—allow for more working hours. This matter goes to the heart of our economy, where often the fiscal situation in the home is codependent on their earnings.

Younger students – elementary and middle school – whose days start later and whose get ready times are longer (help with bathroom hygiene, clothes, books, homework, backpacks, etc.) are usually compelled to eat by parents. They enjoy an extended period from arousal to cognition. Additionally, many are accompanied by adults to the bus stop until they are safely onboard and seated. Of course, by this time, their buses, having completed an earlier run are in service a second time for the younger students.

It’s not that governments, municipalities, school boards, and educators do not understand these issues, and to be fair, many have tried to rework school start times. The challenges are profound: How to flip the schedules without incurring additional costs, addressing parental concerns that waking younger children and getting them out the door will be a challenge and that working parents might not fully trust their teens to exercise responsibility to get themselves to the bus or a ride responsibly.

There have been as many attempts at solving this conundrum; like commercial airlines that can’t seem to load and unload passengers without infuriating their customers or within federal safety mandates. Back in the parking lots, adding buses dedicated to single runs would improve the situation. Then flip the bus schedule by starting later—about ½ an hour for elementary students, then later still (research says about (9:00AM is best for middle and high schoolers) will align the factory and the product for better results and solving a host of other educational and safety issues as well. But more buses equals more of everything a moving fleet requires besides the short and long-term cost.

Presently, buses, once finished with AM runs either retire awaiting half-day students, transporting classes on field excursions or called to the garage for maintenance. The afternoon or PM runs are similar to the morning though buses are pressed into service to shuffle teams for athletic competition, concerts, academic opportunities, and other post-session activities. Nevertheless, fleet managers always want to maximize usage and avoid idle times or ‘deadheading’ the buses to no particular purpose other than standing by awaiting a call to service. What to do with a surfeit of the fleet used once in the morning and once in the afternoon means a lot of capital equipment are sunk costs.

And so: The introduction of AI software has indeed maximized transportation utilization, but as of this moment it remains that adolescent students are forced to fight their own biology in the interests of school start times.

In 2014, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a policy statement urging middle and high schools to adjust start times to allow students to obtain adequate sleep and improve physical and mental health, safety, academic performance, and quality of life. As of this date in 2019, no significant changes have been implemented. This problem is not insoluble. It requires new thinking and a shift in expectations if school is about learning and opportunity. Adaptations ranging from the student’s behaviors, parents, teacher’s and their unions, administrators, boards of education, local municipalities, state, and federal governments and all of us taxpayers agreed to appreciate the enigma and disequilibrium. And convinced any additional costs will have an equivalent improvement in student achievement now and in the future. Benefits to individuals, comity in the community, a tax burden shared as new ratables are attracted by great educational opportunity


There’s an adage among school administrators:
“The transportation tail wags the educational dog”.

If the day arrives when biology and educational services are in balance, more innovation of instruction is possible and in step with the technological revolution cultivating better student achievement through improvements in biological health.

____________________________________________________________________________________________

Ample biological science is definitive, and I stipulate agreement with the article School Start Times, Sleep, Behavioral, Health, and Academic Outcomes: A Review of the Literature. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4824552/ from which the statistics and science have been drawn. All other material is amply supported by research and behaviorists, academic texts, articles, anecdotes, and personal observations as well.

TITHING FOR TEACHERS: FOR A LEGACY OF EXCELLENCE, A LIFETIME OF TANGIBLE THANKS

This is National Teacher Appreciation Week, an opportunity to celebrate great teachers. While attention is focused let me float an outrageous idea. Though I don’t have the workings of this proposal completely flushed out I hope to instigate a dialogue and let you continue the conversation.

I believe teachers are underpaid. And underappreciated. Let me back up a sec: What brought this top of mind are commercials currently airing (and somewhat self-aggrandizing) for the energy industry. You might have seen them, featuring successful—and not unattractive—young professional engineers whose physics and math teachers opened their minds to a world in which they could exploit their passion inspired by their teachers that led to a career and a life.

What if there was a way to address the inequities, in the process refurbishing education as a noble art and science and do it in such a way that avoids new taxes or municipal funding?

Here’s what I believe to be a logical method of rewarding those kinds of instructors: Why not set up a system of tithing; a tangible way former students who by admission found a life because of a memorable teacher. Let’s adopt a method to turn over a very modest amount of money per ex-student, now contributor to a teacher or teachers. Not to the school or district—but directly. These endowments would be a royalty, a supplemental contribution to the teacher(s) who has gone beyond. Just think, the average major subject high school teacher sees over 4500 youngsters in a 30-year career; an elementary teacher, 900. If only a few students, who believe one or more teachers added to their lives would pony up a stipend, then teachers would not only reap a personal gain that would improve their economic station, but set the country on notice that we honor and will reward great teaching. The well-known educational ripple effect (“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.” Henry Adams) would be a paradigm for the nation. What a culture change. No matter the political party, there’s no downside to supporting this. Well, maybe not all politicians would agree, especially the ones who had all bad teachers, right?

In the short term, such a plan resolves very specific wants:

  • Adjusting salaries to make teaching a more fiscally viable profession
  • Addressing teacher evaluations currently based either on formal and mostly contractual agreements or high stakes test results; both of which are flawed metrics
  • Diminishing the overplayed hand of the unions to level the playing field where mediocre and superlative instructors are paid equally based on years of service and graduate credit hours for courses having no bearing on instructional quality

In the long term, we establish a system that will drive teacher’s efforts to create instruction that is more dynamic and draw out a more humanistic approach to the treatment of students. That’s not an accusation that teachers as a group do not try to develop quality lessons nor are they deficient in humanity. However, we’ve all been students and can recall quite clearly those teachers who had the kindness and compassion any parent would hope was doled out to their child during the school day. But we can also recall the harridans, shrews, and malcontents among a faculty to whom teaching was a job to be endured and gave over as little of themselves as they could get away with. So posit this:

  • A 20-year biology teacher whose total salary based on service and coursework is $60,000 per year.
  • Next door, also teaching biology, the teacher is receiving $60,000 but based on voluntary ex-student contributions, her royalties are yielding an annualized, additional $12,000.

What does that say to teachers, the school and district and community?

Moreover, it becomes part of a teacher’s portfolio of merit they can take with them if they decide to shop around for another position in marketplace for excellence outside their current district.

The mechanics, as I said are in the formative stage banging around in my head. Case in point; I would like a value metric to balance these anomalies:

  • Rewarding an elementary school teacher who inspired you to think more of yourself but had no direct connection (though some psychologists would disagree) with your choice of career.
  • K-6 teachers see a disproportionately smaller cadre of students but arguably can be more formative shaping a child and effective at saving one in crisis.
  • What about a teacher who mentors students but is not their actual teacher? He supported and counseled youngsters helping them overcome their self-doubts, lack of confidence, sense of otherness and enabled them to grow in to good spouses, parents and wage earners; how do we apportion those contributions?
  • What about special education, teachers of the arts and other specialties who in some settings have very few students.

Maybe this system would be unfairly slanted and biased against these professionals unless we look for a way to design in equity. Something to chew on.

So here’s how this might work:
Every year in the Valley School District 700 students graduate. Assuming they go straight to work or on to higher education, whether technical training or a collegiate experience they will be wage earners.
Let’s just say the IRS, attaches form 1200A, Education Contribution Benefit Designation to every return. This document is a rubric with these elements:

  • A space to name teacher(s)
  • A series of metrics, say a Likert scale (1-5 or NA) where they could identify and rate teachers based on objective criteria. For instance, did the teacher on line 21 provide you with the information you needed to be hired in the field/job you sought. Or did the teacher prepare you for acceptance into a higher education program. Did the teacher help you create a portfolio or college essay that allowed you entry into your field of study?
  • Another series of metrics would be subjective, though not less important. Any psychometrican can compose, scale, and provide weight with regard to the value of these traits. For instance, did the teacher in line 24 provide the emotional support you needed when you were in crisis? Did s/he mentor you influencing you in a positive way that has made you a better person? Can you appreciate the differences among cultures, countries, and people unlike yourself?
  • A space for supporting statements whether written by the constituent donor or other material provided as evidence the teacher is eligible for a contribution benefit.
  • A space to work out the amount designated to be apportioned to the named teacher(s).
  • Perhaps none of the above except the name of the teacher and the amount to be contributed.

If you teach for 30 years, regardless of level or subject you will have influenced, not just taught content to thousands of youngsters who are now adults and hopefully earning a living. Every year the numbers of ex-students enters the workforce and are added to the roles of possible ‘donors.’ Kind of like compound interest!

I would propose each contributor/donor be obligated for life, with contingencies of course. This serves two purposes; contributing is understood as a very serious commitment with long range consequence and contributions end only if the individual is out of work or retires; furthermore, it ensures the amount cannot fluctuate downward (unless circumstances such as the above occur) so the teacher can budget and rely on that income well in to retirement. Most importantly, I believe the contributor can add a teacher’s name at any time for as we mature it is only from a distance do we begin to fathom the impact a teacher has had on our lives.

OK, some of you might define this plan as merit pay or reimbursement of extraordinary value. Others will see it as a ‘tip’ –a surcharge for what should have been the norm in the first place. I see it more like a legacy reward for a lifetime of great service recognized by customers… AND an immediate way to shake up the profession by the scholars hood and wake up potential. We can declare non too subtlety that, with some inspiration, even if in the form of—gasp—money, teachers can be moved to higher levels of overall performance. Finally it shakes up the worst offenders in the education realm—schools of education whose teacher prep programs are at the least out of touch… and at the worst criminally deficient allowing virtually anyone who pays tuition, is drawing breath and can prep for the tests into the classroom. You know the adage…what do they call the one who finishes last in medical school…doctor.

That’s the plan. Talk about it, argue over it, but don’t pass it by. We rank far below even the poorest countries on many education scales of measurement. I believe a major reason is teaching and our myopic view of schools. The public coffers are empty and education at all levels is being starved. Here’s a place to jump into the dialogue. Or not, but I hope for better. Lastly, I believe I have the chops to write this; I taught K-12, was a university professor and a school administrator in urban settings. I’ve seen education from inside and as a corporate educator working with schools throughout the world.

I’ll end on a positive note. I want to thank Miss Libman my first grade teacher at PS 194 in Brooklyn for her compassion and humanity. Miss Nurnberg who found my talent for art in grade 6 and allowed me extra time at the easel, also at PS 194. Frank Pelligrini who insisted I not turn in less than perfect work and rejected much of my efforts until I got it right, and last but not least, Dr. Peter Bohan, now gone, whose inspiration and love of subject made me a life-long learner and seeker. I would gladly tithe to any and all.

THE TEACHER-BUILT TEXTBOOK REVOLUTION IS HERE: A GIFT TO PROFESSIONALS OR A POX ON INSTRUCTION

In the modern era, the textbook is still the spine from which teachers deliver information. Despite the ubiquity of Wikipedia and the web, most teachers rely on a single source to reference the bulk of instructional material for knowledge transfer to their charges. Some texts are terrific; contemporary information well researched, written and compelling with story-based content attractive to the mass of students. However along with soaring prices, how up-to-date can they be—and how often will new editions replace dated volumes?

Textbooks are generally written by more than one primary author and reviewed by committees of content experts, practitioners in that field, and university educators. They are often generated as often by changes in information in the field as by publishers whose teams of researchers not only scan for the latest information but for the need to sell books.

Which text is selected is as much political as pedagogical; sometimes by fiat resulting from state or national tests to which the textual content must align, or on the local level by committees of educators who select from a narrow range of choices that must satisfy the same requirements. Texts compel teachers adhere to the proscribed curriculum so a higher percentage of students will pass their state’s test. Text selections can, unfortunately become an expression of political or cultural orientation. When school boards—think Texas or Kansas here—demand textbooks align to standardized or ‘high stakes’ tests that themselves are replete with prejudicial, politicized and questionable information the truth dies in the false rhetoric among the vehement and vocal critics of modernism . Darwin, the barometer of scientific objectivism and generally accepted fact, like climate change, Reagonomics, the Civil War, the canon of literature and other hot issues—might be revealed in a realistic and balanced manner in some texts, but meet fierce opposition in these municipalities. In such places you can be sure publishers will accede to the wishes of the textbook purchasers—customers—and modify their product to sell. Put succinctly, in some states, school districts and schools, dinosaurs died and became oil, yet in those same oil-producing states, dinosaurs were domesticated as transportation.

Into the fray steps the software, Apple’s iBooks Author:

“So, the big story is really about how this effects the billion(s) dollar industry of textbook publishing. Apples iBooks will sell for no more than $14.99. So, if the publishers are looking to keep their profits at current levels that most likely means someone is going to get cut out of the deal. It’s obvious that someone is the author. But the good news is that with a free authoring tool and the iTunes/iBook marketplace, I think the authors may end up getting the better end of this deal.
I’ve been it for several years now but I’ll say it again, “Teachers will be the next millionaires.” (Emphasis by the author) With today’s technologies, and the new technologies just around the corner, there is no reason why a great teacher couldn’t produce content for sale, and mentor students for a fee, and make a very good living.” (“Apple Announces Textbook Revolution.” www.elearndev.blogspot.com, 19 January 2012)

At first blush, this seems fantastic. Taken from a purely instructional perspective, the ability to create a multimedia text that will surely fascinate this generation of learners and incorporate disruptive technologies is profound. Kids live in this world every minute. Finally school catches up to real life. Wow! Couple this with online sharing and collaborative ventures and we are in reach of best in class teaching and reference materials. Note the author quoted above (Brent Schlenker in this case, a very sharp educator and aware blogger) grows misty over ‘great teachers’ producing ‘great textbooks.’ This presumes only great teachers will master the tools and build terrific texts–up to the minute, media rich and iconic.

What about the mediocre teacher who also has the technical chops to produce a compelling volume? Even if their books are clearly viewed as insipid, who is to say they won’t be adopted somewhere? The contrarian in me (a former teacher, administrator, university professor and state consultant—and textbook author) worries that we may be launching a confabulation of substandard information produced by competent software manipulators with substandard or politicized content. And where will teachers get the energy and time to organize and design and develop unique interactive texts. Even with the relative simplicity of the tools. It’s possible they’ll default to the lowest common denominator amongst content to push out material viz, rapid elearning, to speak to students in their ‘umwelt’ and that looks close to entertainment or at best edutainment.

Schools of education are totally in the Stone Age here so don’t expect teachers to experience development techniques to help them become instructional designers. Not all teachers are good writers, nor have they been trained in the profundities and nuances of graphic and interactive design. Besides the very real daily issues of keeping groups of students on task and in line are still job one in most classrooms.

Here’s a rubric that I believe tosses into the ring a way in which to examine what teacher-built texts could be.

It’s certainly not comprehensive, rather a point of departure. I’d like to start some dialogues here, look forward to a debate about the realities that will eventually present themselves as the tools roll out, and teachers commit to self-authoring. So I’ve drawn my line in the sand. I hope great teachers can not only master the technology but gain the time to produce first-rate contemporary texts—ones that can change as real facts become known. And students will be the real beneficiaries to the extant they can respond in kind by building their own materials questioning and inventing other realities. But it’s all too likely that without standards that had better evolve quickly, there’s an equal chance given the history of school progressivism, teacher built texts can be equal to the worst produced by publishers.