There is wisdom to the adage “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” Many students, however, are finding it very difficult to do just that. Although many studies have shown that delaying school start times by as much as an hour may increase student performance, an underlying problem is not being addressed: the time-consuming lifestyles that many students are forced to lead. The proposed California Senate Bill 328 will not cause teenagers to develop the time-management skills necessary to secure a healthy amount of sleep. Without that additional sleep, students will not be able to capitalize on the school day’s later start, so the bill will likely fail to achieve its intended purpose. A more realistic objective is to reduce the amount of busy work assigned to students at home, which would free up additional time to sleep.
The school day will not get shorter under the proposed California bill; the bill only mandates that classes will begin no earlier than 8:30 a.m. As such, students will not experience any saved time — classes and activities will inevitably be proportionately pushed back. The fact that teenagers do not sleep enough is well-documented, but it is unclear how changing the start of the school day will affect the amount of sleep that students get each night. If the problem is that students are overcommitted, travel too far for school or have other time-consuming conditions, it is foolish to assume that the simple act of changing the hour that each event takes place will solve anything.
The rhetorical appeal of a later start is certainly strong. There is no shortage of students — even at USC — who would love nothing more than for school to start later. But the real issue isn’t when school starts, it is when students go to sleep. Furthermore, it is the slew of commitments that students have inside and outside of school that dictate when they can sleep, not the time that school begins.
Some students in middle school have reported having two to four hours of homework per night. Advanced Placement students in high school often have just as much, and sometimes even more. If California wants to help students perform better and enjoy healthier sleep habits, it should cap the amount of homework that middle school and high school students trudge home with each day rather than simply delaying the time that school starts.
I was very aware in high school that I needed to sleep enough in order to function. I made it my goal to sleep at 10 p.m. each night. Homework, however, constantly got in the way of that goal.
Consider this: My high school classes started at 7:50 a.m. each morning during my senior year. I took an additional morning class that lasted for about an hour before school started, so I was on campus at 6:30 a.m. every day. My school ended around 2:45 p.m. However, I rarely left campus at that time because I had wrestling practice at school in the afternoon and evening. I also worked part-time. By the time I would get home on days that I worked, it would often be 7:30 p.m. or later. Now add in the time necessary to eat, perform the most basic of family social functions and the two to four hours of homework each night from taking several AP classes, and I was left with about six hours of sleep on a regular basis. This is a far cry from the recommended eight to nine hours, which proponents of California Senate Bill 328 claim the bill will somehow contribute to securing for students.
If California values the sleep schedules of teenage students, this is an unacceptable state of affairs. If even half of the time that students commonly spend on homework is devoted to sleeping rather than pointless busy work, California students could rest eight or nine hours a night and likely actually see the benefits that California Senate Bill 328 only promises to provide them.
The solution I have proposed is constructive and practical — California Senate Bill 328’s solution simply moves the hour hand on the clock forward.
Trevor Kehrer is a senior majoring in political science. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Wednesdays.