Analyzing Start Times of High Schools

This research study will investigate the start time of high schools. The goal is to research how early start times for schools can impact the academic achievement as well as the mental health of students at a high school in Washtenaw County, Michigan. The two questions that will be the focus of the research are: 1.

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Will moving the start time of the school day back one hour result in the lowering number of mental health related cases within the high school? 2. Will moving the start time of the school day back one hour succeed in increasing academic achievement in the high school? The research paradigm used for this study would be a mixed method research design. The results of the study will be both qualitative as well as quantitative. The expected results for the study will be that the delay in start time will decrease the number of mental health cases and increase student achievement within the high school.

Part I:

Introduction and Overview of the Study Educational research is vital to the growth of education. According to Johnson & Christensen (2017), research has been conducted in many different categories in education. One specific category that researchers are looking into are the start times of schools and how they affect students both academically and mentally. This is a subject in which all involved (parents/guardians, students, and teachers) agree needs to be discussed. In many households around the country, mornings can be a massive headache. Adolescents struggle with balancing getting ready for school and preparing for the rest of their day. According to Carolyn Crist’s article Later School Start Times Catch on Nationwide, Crist states, ‘Since the 1990s, sleep health advocates have recommended later school start times in the morning, but districts have been slow to adapt.”

Crist continues to say that ‘…the American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended since 2014 that schools start no earlier than 8:30 a.m.” Even when presented with this testimonial from the AAP, districts continue to start school before 8:30 a.m. The argument being presented by the school districts is that the responsibilities and accountability factors that go with an early start time will effectively prepare the students for life after high school, such as a full time job or college classes. In addition, those that are skeptical of the later start time wonder if an adjustment of only an hour or so will truly make a difference in students’ academic achievement and mental wellness and what effect will the later start time have on the dynamics of a typical school day such as after school programs (i.e., sports and clubs) and teaching later in the day.

In addition, Dexter, Bijwadia, Schilling, and Applebaugh (2003), state ‘Later start times for high school students may mean earlier start times for younger students, which may be associated with another set of problems…” (p. 45). These arguments and doubts are the framework of the school start time debate. While districts continue to delay pushing back school start times, there is a plethora of research that explains many benefits to later school start times. According to Owens, Belon & Moss (2010), ‘…a recent National Sleep Foundation poll found that 80% of adolescents in the United States were getting less than the recommended 9 hours of sleep on school nights” (p. 608).

By pushing back school start times, adolescents would have a greater chance at getting the recommended 9 hours of sleep. In addition, Owens, Belon, & Moss (2010) results show that there was a correlation with students’ sleep duration and students’ achievement levels as well as measuring students who felt unhappy or depressed (pp. 610-612). While the effects of early school start times on student achievement is a focus, researchers are also focusing on students’ health issues. For example, Owens, Belon, & Moss (2010) results show that students’ physical and mental health can be affected by school start times as well, such as increased number of driving accidents related to drowsiness, lack of exercise, increased weight gain and obesity, increased use of stimulants and mental health related issues (613). To supplement these findings, another group of researchers investigated how early school start times affect adolescents. According to Dexter, Bijwadia, Schilling, and Applebaugh (2003), ‘Early start time in our community is associated with a trend towards reduction of sleep time and reports on increased sleepiness” (46). Another benefit to a delayed school start time would be to help the health of adolescent, including their sleep cycle.

According to Dexter, Bijwadia, Schilling, and Applebaugh (2003), ‘The delayed sleep phase syndrome is characterized by difficulty falling asleep at a reasonable bedtime and a difficulty rising in the morning” (p. 45). If school start time was delayed, adolescents would be better prepared to avoid this sleep phase syndrome. The authors continue by stating that ‘The most drastic complication of sleep deprivation is the morbidity and mortality due to accidents…delaying the high school start time by 1 hour has been shown to significantly reduce motor vehicle crash rate” (p. 45). This is a crucial element to think about considering a population of students aged sixteen to eighteen who may be driving to school each morning. The high school in my district begins class at 7:30 a.m. and runs until 2:10 p.m. At this time there are no proposals to change the start time for the future. I would propose that the start time be moved back to 8:30 a.m. I believe that moving the school start time back a hour will help decrease mental health issues such as stress, sleep deprivation issues, and improve student academic achievement. It has been documented that several high school students experience one or more of the following issues: eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and sleep deprivation.

In Kyle Spencer’s article from the New York Times, ‘It Takes a Suburb: A Town Struggles to ease Student Stress,” this health concern trend is occurring across America not just in Michigan. Spencer’s focus was on Lexington High school in Massachusetts. He also discussed how much stress students and parents undergo in terms of grades, class rank, and getting into college. He states that Ms. Lasa, ‘…begged the students (freshman) to make mistakes. ?Don’t believe that you must acquire straight A’s to be a successful student.'” Spencer continues to say that the high school is impressing upon it students to ‘find balance.” He uses interviews (qualitative data) from school counselors to express the stress and anxiety students go through during their course of study. Spencer’s article shows that these issues are similar among high school students, are not state or community specific, and change is needed. High schools need to find ways to help ease these issues. One solution to help ease these issues is the delayed start time. Yes, there will be arguments and debates, but educational research must be done to provide specific evidence for or against whether the change to the start of the school day will make a difference in easing mental health issues and improving academic achievement.

The goal of this research is to identify if pushing back the start time of the high school school day by one hour will obtain the results of decreased mental health cases and increase in student academic achievement. My two key questions that I will be examining are: 1. Will pushing back the start time of the school day by one hour decrease the number of mental health cases in the high school in my district? 2. Will pushing back the start time of the school day by one hour increase student academic achievement? The target of the study is to benefit the high school students mentally, so as they can achieve at higher levels.

Part II:

Literature Review

The theory that aligns with this study is Maslow’s Motivational Model. The model presents an eight-stage hierarchy of needs in numerical order. In addition to being in numerical order, the stages must be met in order for progression to occur. Stage one is physiological needs. This relates to food, air, water, shelter, sleep, etc. With my research study looking at the effects of a one hour delay in the start time of the school day, it is crucial to cite this model as the idea of sleep is understood, especially with adolescents.

Based on this model, mental health related issues, like depression, eating disorders, and anxiety, can be affected if physiological needs are absent or not fulfilled. This model continues to show that cognitive, self-actualization, and transcendence needs, despite being at the top and focus on student learning and growth, would be hard to fulfill without first fulfilling the physiological needs. In essence, if the sleep need is not fulfilled, a student would not be able to achieve at their highest potential.

According to The Economist, ‘a shop worker without a lunch break is less productive in the afternoon than one who has had a break.” This demonstrates Maslow’s Motivational Model and shows that tired students (deprived of their sleep need) cannot function at the highest level. Empirical research has been completed and supports Maslow’s Motivational Model in a sense that sleep must be achieved to fulfill the physiological need for students to preserve stable mental health to achieve academically. While researching preceding articles related to school start time, student mental health and academic achievement, the idea of Circadian Rhythm surfaced. Circadian Rhythm is ‘The biological rhythm that governs our sleep-wake cycle…that controls the sleep inducing hormone melatonin” (Carrell, Maghakian, West, 2011, p. 64). According to Scott E. Carrell, Teny Maghakian, and James E. West (2011), ‘During adolescence, there are major changes in one circadian rhythm…the adolescent body does not begin producing melatonin until around 11 p.m. and continues in peak production until about 7 a.m. then stops at 8 a.m.” (p. 64). This shows that adolescents could have a hard time falling asleep at 9 or 10 p.m. and waking between 5 and 7 a.m. depending on the student.

According to Julie Boergers, Christopher J. Gable, and Judith Owens (2014), ‘optimal sleep duration remains at 8.5 to 9.5 hours per night” (p. 11). Using Carrell, Maghakian, and West’s research regarding the circadian rhythm and Boergers, Gable and Owens research about sleep duration, early start times have a negative effect on adolescents as it interrupts their biological sleep patterns. Comparing these stats with Maslow’s Motivational Model, it becomes clear why students who are sleep deprived struggle in academic achievement, and report that they feel stressed, anxiety, depressed-all mental health-related issues. Looking at the mental health aspect, adolescents not getting enough sleep can be associated with a high risk of depression and suicidal ideation (Grob, Lemola, Perkinson-Gloor, 2013). Maslow’s Motivational Model as well as the circadian rhythm are two crucial theories that support the research topic of delaying school start times of high schools. In addition to these theories, three studies that are related to this topic have been analyzed and three themes have surfaced from comparing each study.

The first theme that surfaced was how researchers looked for ways to control the population and how they selected data to uses to assess their research questions. Each article narrowed in on analyzing the effects of a delayed start time, the effects of individual students, and the researchers had to control as many variable as possible. In order to complete the study, researchers looked for school environments and student populations that were homogeneous. Researchers also had to look for ways to ensure their data was not subjective in any way or influenced by outside factors. In Carrell, Maghakian, and West’s article titled A’s from Zzzz’s? The Causal Effect of School Time on the Academic Achievement of Adolescents (2011), the authors investigated freshman students who attended the United States Air Force Academy. Despite these students being college students, they were still considered adolescents and the school day was set up like a high school day. The students attended four fifty-three minute classes each morning and three each afternoon, with a portion that was not given a first hour class (Carrell, Maghakian, West, 2011, pp. 66-67).

A twenty-five minute mandatory breakfast precedes first period for all students. The academy was chosen by the researchers as the population of admitted students had similar backgrounds, with average scoring in the 88th and 85th percentiles in the math and verbal categories respectively on the SAT (Carrell, Maghakian, West, 2011, p. 66). Due to these parameters, many outside variables were controlled, and allowed researchers to assess the start time adequately. The authors compared data from the students who had a a first hour period that started at different times of the day (7 a.m., 7:30 a.m., and 7:50 a.m.) to those students who did not have a first period class. To help with controlling variables, the USAF maintains that all assessments, courses, and grading procedures are standard across the academy. This allowed subjectivity to be low when comparing grades of students who had different teaches. In the second study, authors Nadine Perkinson-Gloor, Sakari Lemola, and Alexander Grob article titled Sleep Duration, Positive Attitude Toward Life, and Academic Achievement: The Role of Daytime Tiredness, Behavioral Persistence, and School Start Times, chose a lower high school in Switzerland. It had a homogeneous population of immigrant students with low socioeconomic status.

The researchers focus was on eighth and ninth grade students and their daytime tiredness, sleep habits, attitude towards life, as well as behavioral persistence (Grob, Lemola, Perkinson-Gloor, 2013, p. 411). As with the researchers from the first study, Grob, Lemola, Perkinson-Gloor, also did their best to control outside variables to allows their assessment of the school start time to be adequate. In order to gauge academic achievement, the authors looked at the same two classes, Mathematics and German. By maintaining the same two classes, the researchers were able to control variability in the results.

The third study by Julie Boergers, Christopher J. Gable, and Judith A. Owens, titled Later School Start Time is Associated with Improved Sleep and Daytime Functioning in Adolescents, investigates a coeducational residential school. The school serves mostly boarding students from ninth to twelfth grade, and because admission to this school is competitive, the backgrounds of the students were not a factor in the research, as the population was mostly advanced in their academics. In addition to the student being advanced in academics, because they boarded at the school, they were on the same daily schedule. The schedule ran from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays, and ran 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Wednesdays (Boergers, Gable, and Owens, 2014). Similar to the other studies, the authors were able to analyze the effect of the school start time by using a relatively homogeneous population of students. However, unlike the other two studies, the authors looked across terms when looking at grades. There was no mention about grading policies or keeping assessments standard, so these were variables that might have affected their outcomes, and giving results that the start time didn’t affect the academic achievement of students.The second theme that surfaced from looking at these studies was the research paradigm that was used. In the second and third study that I’ve discussed, a mixed method approach was used.

The researchers used a questionnaire to collect their quantitative data and collected quantitative data as it pertained to academic achievement. The authors did turn the information from the questionnaires into quantitative data so as to analyze it in terms of daytime tiredness, mood, sleep patterns, etc. While the first study offered a quantitative-only analysis of students who had a first period at times of 7 a.m., 7:30 a.m., and 7:50 a.m., versus a group who did not have a first period, the third study offered more of a mixed method approach of using questionnaires for qualitative data, and grading as a quantitative data. I believe the first study approach of keep grading policies, assessments, and procedures standard helps keep the subjectivity out of the study and would benefit researchers. Using the student perspectives from the third study provides researchers a window into adolescent thought processes and is useful in the discussion of the debate of school start times and its effects both academically and in regard to mental health. The third theme to surface through the literature review was that both academic achievement and student health were impacted in a positive way by delaying the start time of school.

The first study found that there were lower scores of those in a first period class when compared to those who were not in a first period class. According to Carrell, Maghakian, and West (2011), ‘We find that early school start times negatively affect student achievement-students randomly assigned to a first period course earn lower overall grades…compared to students who are not assigned a first period class…” (p. 79). In the second study, Grob, Lemola, and Perkinson-Gloor (2013), discovered that ‘students with insufficient sleep duration of less than 8 h showed more daytime tiredness, less behavioral persistence, less positive attitude toward life and had lower school grades…in comparison to their counterparts who sleep longer” (p. 317). This supports the idea that students who fulfill Maslow’s physiological need first, can focus on the next need, such as academic achievement, a positive attitude toward life, and behavioral persistence.

In the final study I researched, students were positively affected in regard to academic achievement and mental health due to the later school start time. According to Boergers, Gable, and Owens (2014), ‘there were significant improvements in all of these parameters (academic achievement and mental health issues) after the time delay” (p. 16). One thing to note with these studies is the actual time amount of the delay in start time. For the first study, the amount of time delay for students with a first hour period range from zero to fifty minutes. If the USAF students did not have a first hour, the delay was about fifty-five minutes. For the second and third studies, the delay in start time was only twenty-five minutes. In the end, the delay in start times allowed students to get more of the much needed sleep so as to align with the before-mentioned circadian rhythm of adolescent students.

The outcomes of these studies highlight the crucial relationship between sleep, mental health of adolescent students, and academic achievement. The outcomes of the three studies show why the debate for a later school start time for high schools is an important one. Despite the resistance this topic brings, the best interests of the students need to be at the forefront whether it’s their mental health or their academic achievement. It is assumed that if districts begin to change their high school start times, they will begin to see results like the studies. In contrast, according to Boergers, Gable, and Owens (2014), ‘sleep loss is also associated with negative impacts on academic performance, increased tardiness and absenteeism, and decreased motivation to learn” (p. 11). This shows that school districts need to create an environment where the students can prepare for their mental, physical, and academic success. By delaying high school start times, districts are making a statement that they care about the overall well being of all students.

Part III:

Methods

The research study will use a mixed methods paradigm. Based on the studies I have read that are related to this topic, I thought the studies that used a mixed method approach were informative and detail-oriented.

Based on Creswell (2014), the ‘mixing” or blending of data results in a stronger understanding of the problem or question versus using just quantitative or qualitative paradigms on their own. The studies that I have been referenced above, Later School Start Time is Associated with Improved Sleep and Daytime Functioning in Adolescents and Sleep Duration, Positive Attitude Towards Life, and Academic Achievement: The Role of Daytime Tiredness, Behavioral Persistence, and School Start Times used a mixed methods research paradigm approach. They used questionnaires (qualitative data) for student perspective in regard to mental health issues and sleep patterns, while analyzing term grades and assessments as their quantitative data. I would use a Convergent Parallel Mixed Method Design. I would collect the quantitative and qualitative data at the same time, and through analysis of both sets of data an agreed upon outcome will be the result.

The population of students will come from a mixture of students ranging from eleventh to twelfth grades from a high school in Washtenaw County, Michigan. These students were picked as they are in their adolescent years, and most of them are driving to school in the early morning. The sample will consist of about 150 students from the population, from differing backgrounds, and picked at random. In order to decrease variability in the study, the population is selected as they have high school experience of the early start time. According to Creswell (2014), ‘it is important to obtain necessary permission from the guardians of the students involved in the research study” (page # needed). A consent form will be mailed to each student’s parent or legal guardian selected to participate. The student will only be allowed to participate if their form has been signed and returned.

The study will take place over the course of the 2018-2019 school year. During the first semester all students involved in the study, whose forms have been returned, will complete the semester of school with a start time of 7:30 a.m. This is the present start time of the high school. At the end of the semester, students will complete an online questionnaire containing questions in regard to the following categories: motivation, sleep habits, attitude towards school and life (separately), daytime tiredness, and academic performance/achievement. These questions will be essay format, where students will be allowed to give us perspective on their lives, and how they saw their semester in regard to the above categories. Students will be instructed to be as detailed and specific as possible in their responses. Students will also be instructed to state what their status was at the beginning and at the end of the semester for each category.

In addition, school counselors will be contacted to identify how many (quantitative data) mental health issue cases were reported during the semester. Students’ academic grades will be assessed for academic achievement. The grades used will be in Mathematics and English Language Arts (English) and taught by one math teacher and one english teacher. These classes have standardized grading policies as well as tests that students will take over the course of the semester. Using these parameters will decrease the variability and subjectivity in curriculum and grading. For semester two, the start time of school will be moved to 8:30 a.m. and will run to 3:10 p.m. as to keep the school day length the same. Just like the end of semester one, at the end of semester two, students will take the same online questionnaire. Students will be reminded to only focus on their status of semester two not sester one. An added question on the questionnaire will relate to assessing their perspective of the time change (i.e., Do you think it helped you in the categories that have been mentioned? How?). In addition, school counselors will report back the number of mental health issue cases and academic grades will be recorded and compared with what was recorded after sester one.

A complication that may arise is that while the curriculums being used for math and english are standardized, the material covered and the difficulty of the material may interfere with acquiring accurate results. Researchers need to ensure that the difficulty of material is challenging and consistent all year. Before analyzing the data, both qualitative and quantitative, expectations and methods of how researchers will evaluate the data must be set. Qualitative data will be analyzed using computer software. Students’ answers from both sets of questionnaires will be entered in a way that can be referenced for each semester as well as comparing results of the same student between semesters. I would need to be careful to not analyze unnecessary information or extraneous variables. In each category of: motivation, sleep habits, attitude towards school and life (separately), daytime tiredness, and academic performance/achievement, researchers will need to identify common themes that students present. By identifying these themes a conclusion would be able to made. For the quantitative data (students’ academic grades), independent and dependent variables must be identified and defined.

The independent variable is the change in school start time, while the dependent variable is the students’ academic grades and the mental health issue cases. At the end of each semester an average score will be calculated for both math and english, and school counselors will report all mental health issue cases. At the conclusion of the second semester, all data will be compared. The comparisons being made between semester one data and semester two data will aid in determining if the claim of a layed start time affects student academic achievement as well as mental health is valid or invalid. This study will be conducted in a way that preserves student anonymity. At no time will students be identified by name or a numerical system. The final report of this study, including data and conclusions made, will be presented at a school board meeting, that will be open to the public. The validity of the data will be determined so to ensure the analysis and conclusions are accurate and that they happened.

PartIV:

Discussion

The goal of this research study was to evaluate two main research questions that focused on the connections between pushing the start time of high school back a hour, academic achievement, and reported cases of mental health issues by students. There is no current solution at this time for the high school in Washtenaw County, Michigan. Additional educational and health research related to this topic has revealed that there are a plethora of benefits to a delayed school start time for high school students. In regard to the specific research questions being addressed, mental health cases have decreased and students’ academic performances scores have increased due to the delayed start time of less than a hour.

In addition to the before-mentioned research, Maslow’s Motivational Model and the information about the circadian rhythm in adolescents further support a later start time for high schoolers, and should be encouraged. The results of this study would show that a later start time of a hour would continue to help decrease the number of cases reported in regard to mental health issues, and increase student academic performance. These positive results would create a healthier high school culture that would see a decrease in daytime tiredness, automobile accidents, stress, anxiety, and other health related issues. The increase in student academic performance would lead to a decrease in a negative attitude towards school, tardiness, and absenteeism, and promote intrinsic motivation and drive to learn within the student body.

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