Arne Duncan: Start high school later in the day, teens need more sleep

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Education Secretary Arne Duncan would like to see later start times for high schools.

Fill-in host Susan Page interviewed Duncan on NPR’s “The Diane Rehm Show” Wednesday and pressed him on a tweet he wrote last month calling later start times “common sense to improve student achievement.”

“That was one of my more effective tweets. I didn’t realize it at the time. You never know how this stuff is going to work,” Duncan said. “But I am serious about it. I think there is lots of research and, again, sort of common sense that a lot of teens struggle to get up at 6:00 in the morning to get on the bus, or 5:30 in the morning to get on the bus.”

Duncan noted that he understands there are logistical reasons for early wake-up calls, but said that the goal should be the well-being of the students.

“At the end of the day I think it’s incumbent upon education leaders to not run school systems that work good for buses but that work good for students,” he said.

According to the education secretary studies have shown that mornings are “difficult” for teens.

“They aren’t awake, they’re groggy, they aren’t able to pay attention in class. If we were able to start later and if they were able to be more focused, if they were able to concentrate in class that’s a really good thing,” Duncan said. “So often in education we design school systems that work for adults and not for kids, and I think this is just another example of that.”

“So I was trying to challenge the status quo and to be provocative, and say if so much evidence is fairly overwhelming that this is a better way for teens to learn — why, as education leaders, why aren’t we paying attention to that and at least looking at this very, very seriously?” he asked.

When asked if the federal government would play a role in encouraging later times Duncan said later start times would ultimately be decided at the local level but that he would “love to see more districts contemplating a later start time.”

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