The Economic Benefits of Later School Start Times in the U.S.
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Some people argue that delaying U.S. high school start times would incur significant costs for schools and parents.
However, an economic analysis shows that delaying school start times is a cost-effective, population-level strategy that could have a significant, positive impact on public health and the U.S. economy.
Numerous studies have shown that later school start times are associated with positive student outcomes, including improvements in academic performance, mental and physical health, and public safety. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Medical Association recommend that middle and high schools start no earlier than 8:30am to accommodate the known biological shift in adolescent sleep-wake schedules. Despite the scientific evidence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 82 percent of middle and high schools in the U.S. start before 8:30am, with an average start time of 8:03am.
Extending school start times are increasingly becoming a hotly debated topic in school districts across the U.S. Those against the move claim that later school start times could result in significant additional costs for schools due to changes in transportation strategies, such as bus schedules and changes to parents’ work schedules.
Researchers investigated the economic implications of later school start times in the U.S. through an economic analysis (in 47 U.S. states) of a state-wide universal shift to 8.30am.
Using a novel macroeconomic modelling approach, the study estimated changes in the economic performance of 47 U.S states following a delayed school start time of 8.30am, which includes the benefits of higher academic performance of students and reduced car crash rates. The model projected changes to the U.S. economy over a 20 year period following the policy change.
- The benefit-cost projections suggested that delaying school start times is a cost-effective, population-level strategy that could have a significant impact on public health and the U.S. economy.
- The study suggested that the benefits of later start times out-weigh the immediate costs. Even after just two years, the study projects an economic gain of $8.6 billion to the U.S. economy, which would already outweigh the costs per student from delaying school start times to 8.30am.
- After a decade, the study showed that delaying schools start times would contribute $83 billion to the U.S. economy, with this increasing to $140 billion after 15 years.
- During the 20 year period examined by the study, the average annual gain to the U.S. economy would about $9.3 billion each year, which is roughly the annual revenue of Major League Baseball.
- Throughout the benefit-cost projections, a conservative approach was undertaken that did not include other effects from insufficient sleep, such as higher suicide rates, increased obesity and mental health issues — all of which are difficult to quantify precisely. Therefore, it is likely that the reported economic benefits from delaying school start times could be even higher across many U.S. states.