A Case of Parent vs. Student Intersts
Recently there was a meeting of stakeholders, the Shared Decision Making Council, to get feedback on next year's bell schedule, with the issue of school start time as the main topic. Two bell schedules were proposed: one with school starting at 7:30 am, another with an 8:00 am start.
All the educational research shows that later school start times are much more productive for students due to teenage sleep cycles, circadian rhythms, etc., and our current 7:30 am start is particularly brutal for our middle school students. Even if teachers had not read the research, classroom experience shows us that students are markedly less alert at this time than after 9:00 am, or after lunch.
In an era of education reform, teachers are often accused of putting adult interests first. For many teachers, an earlier start time means an earlier quitting time and less traffic to battle on the way home. Yet many are willing to set aside this personal convenience because they recognize the benefit to students. (It is unclear whether the district will allow stakeholders to decide start times, but in case we are, allowed the feedback process has begun.)
So imagine our surprise when parents were adamant about their preferences for an earlier start time citing child care, work schedules, and school-drop off schedules for their other children as their reasons. In other words, adult-centered reasons. Attempts were made to convey the results of the research, but even after two hours, many still stuck to their guns.
A democratic process in schools is an important and pivotal part of their vitality. But with democracy comes the responsibility to do what is better for the whole, not just for the few. Our predominantly working class families are right to express concern about work schedules. Many are hanging on to their jobs by a thread. Yet given the opportunity, some are willing to sacrifice 30 daily minutes of alert time (multiplied by 180 days= 90 hours of instruction) in order to have a more convenient schedule for themselves.
This is a tough one for me. I believe in parent empowerment, and parent education. But with the swift rate of change being imposed on schools like ours, we do not have the massive amount of time needed to meet with all parents, explain the research carefully in two languages, and check for thorough understanding.
What should our Shared Decision Making Council do about this situation? I welcome any feedback.