Does School Start Too Early?

The latest research, from Christian Vollmer:

There are individual preferences in circadian rhythm, also known as chronotype, ranging from morning-orientation to evening-orientation. In adolescence, the sleep rhythm shifts from morningness to eveningness while school schedules are early. School performance – short-term attention and gradings – may decrease with increasing evening-orientation. One thousand nine hundred and seventy-seven adolescents aged 10–17 provided self-reported information on their chronotype as well as their gradings and completed an attention test. Controlling for age and gender, earlier chronotype was a significant predictor of better gradings and better performance in the attention test. Moreover, concerning the attention test, we found a slower and more considerate completion strategy in morning-types and faster and a more impulsive strategy in evening-types. Using structural equation modeling, age had a negative influence while class level had a positive influence on gradings and attention. The authors suggest a delay of school start times by 1 h as a measure to improve the school performance of late chronotypes.

Get ready for the morning person-evening person achievement gap! Obviously this is an issue we’re ill-equipped to prioritize at the current moment, but getting kids on a learning schedule that’s more in line with their natural rhythms is not necessarily a trivial matter. In addition to improved learning, students will likely be more engaged and develop higher overall levels of positive affect toward school.

I want to go into this in more depth at some point, but the potential benefits of later school times is one of the many reasons that self-driving cars could be the most important education innovation of the next 30 years. As long as school transportation requires a great deal of adult supervision and central planning, school hours will always mirror the standard adult work schedule. But with cheap (or free) and secure self-driving cars that come to your door, students can go to school at any time.

And that’s just a small part of what self-driving cars can do. Overall, they have the ability to transform the education system by vastly expanding the geographic area in which a student can attend a school. Proponents of school choice often ignore the serious geographical roadblocks to a utopian system where the great schools thrive and the bad ones are left without students. If there are only two or three schools near your house, there’s no guarantee you’ll be able to choose a great school. But self-driving cars put more schools into play. Not only will this lead to beneficial differentiation and specialization — such as the creation of schools that start later — it will make it less likely that students will be forced to attend a school because it’s their best bad option.

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