October 8, 2013
MCPS Superintendent Joshua P. Starr is recommending that the district consider pushing back high school start times by 50 minutes and extending the elementary school day by 30 minutes. The recommendation is based on the report by the 2013 Bell Times Work Group, which has been studying the issue of school starting and ending times in MCPS for the past 10 months.
On Oct. 8, the Board of Education heard a presentation from Dr. Starr and the Bell Times Work Group. There will be extensive outreach to gather input from students, staff, parents and community members about Dr. Starr’s recommendation. Staff will also determine the cost and operational impact of making changes to the school schedule. The earliest any changes would occur is the 2015–2016 school year.
Dr. Starr said his recommendation is aligned with the strategic direction of the district. MCPS has made student well-being an important part of its mission and it is part of the district’s new Strategic Planning Framework.
“I am making this recommendation because I believe it is in the best interests of our students. There is extensive research that demonstrates that adolescents are simply not getting enough sleep. This is a public health and safety issue,” Dr. Starr said. “If we are truly committed to the well-being of our students, we must consider the feasibility of adjusting our start times to support their health and success.
“At the same time, I realize my recommendation may have a substantial impact on the lives of our students, staff, families, and school communities,” Dr. Starr said. “Therefore, we must take the time to determine the costs and operational impact of my recommendation and gather input from as many stakeholders as possible before we make a final decision next year.”
Dr. Starr is recommending the following changes be studied:
– Move high school start times 50 minutes later, from 7:25 a.m. to 8:15 a.m. (school ending at 3 p.m.)
– Move middle school start times 10 minutes earlier, from 7:55 a.m. to 7:45 a.m. (school ending at 2:30 p.m.)
– Keep elementary school start times as they currently are (8:50 a.m. and 9:15 a.m.), but extend the school day by 30 minutes (school ending at 3:35 p.m. and 4 p.m.)
Currently, the elementary school day in MCPS is 6 hours and 15 minutes, which is 30 minutes shorter than middle and high school students. MCPS has the second shortest elementary school day in the state of Maryland.
“This would add the equivalent of 14 days of instruction to our elementary grades, providing additional learning opportunities for students and staff,” Dr. Starr said. “We will work with our community, our employees, and our employee associations to fully study the impact of this change and how this additional time could be used most effectively.”
Dr. Starr said he expects to have substantial public input and a full cost analysis by spring 2014.
The issue of school starting and ending times—often called “bell times”—had not been studied in MCPS since the late 1990s. In December 2012, Dr. Starr convened the 2013 Bell Times Work Group as the first step in a three-phase process.
In the first phase, the Work Group spent months studying past reports on the issues, reviewing the latest research, hearing from experts, and developing options for Dr. Starr’s consideration. In September, Dr. Starr received a draft of the group’s report.
The report provides extensive references and information regarding sleep deprivation and its impact on adolescents, who generally need 8.5 to 9.5 hours of sleep per night. Currently, many high school students need to be awake by 6 a.m.—if not earlier—to get to school on time, making it unlikely they will get a sufficient amount of sleep. While the impact of later start times on academic achievement is inconclusive, there are clear health benefits to adolescents getting more sleep.
“The Work Group did an outstanding job of gathering a broad array of information and developing thoughtful options that informed my recommendation,” Dr. Starr said. “I want to thank the members of the Work Group for their time, energy, and commitment.”
The next phase of the process will be determining the feasibility and impact of changing start times and extending the elementary school day as Dr. Starr has recommended. There will be extensive outreach to the community that will include four public meetings, focus groups, surveys, and broad opportunities to submit input. Dr. Starr emphasized the importance of hearing from the entire community, especially groups that had not weighed in on the issue of start times as of yet.
A full outreach and engagement plan will be announced later in October. Community members with comments about the recommendation can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Once input has been gathered on Dr. Starr’s recommendation, and the full costs have been determined, the third phase of the process will include making a final decision, and planning for any operational changes.
“I believe this is an important issue. I know there will be a great deal of public discussion about this recommendation and that it is likely to engender a great deal of passion,” Dr. Starr said. “We have an obligation to delve deeper into this issue and make the most informed decision possible, keeping the health and well-being of our children at the forefront of our discussions and decisions.”