A study of 718 elementary schools in Kentucky examined associations between school start times and performance and revealed that – at least for children from better-off families – earlier start times in elementary school were associated with poorer school performance.
The research started out with two main hypotheses: that early start times would be associated with underperformance; and children from poorer backgrounds would show the greatest disadvantage.
Key findings included:
• Earlier start times were associated with poorer test scores, lower school rank, and more absences from school.
• Schools with fewer children who qualify for subsidised meals showed a significant relationship between early start times and poor performance.
• Later start times were associated with more children held back to repeat a school year (the authors think theirs is the first study to look at this issue and suggest caution over this finding).
Much of the previous research on school start times and learning considers the effect on older children. The authors reported that the current study offers some of the first evidence that early school start times may influence learning in elementary school.
The authors were surprised that their analysis revealed that later start times did not seem to benefit poorer children and suggested that “the delay in start times may not be sufficient to overcome the numerous other obstacles that children in poverty face, including obstacles to obtaining adequate sleep.”
The study controlled for variables such as teacher-student ratio, student ethnicity, and location.
Source: Earlier school start times as a risk factor for poor school performance: An examination of public elementary schools in the commonwealth of Kentucky (2015), Journal of Educational Psychology