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School start dates and school start times — February 2017


Could you provide information on school start dates and school start times?


Following an established REL West research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on school start dates and times. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, and general Internet search engines (For details, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.)

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched for references through the most commonly used sources of research, but they are not comprehensive and other relevant references and resources may exist.

Research References

Research on school start dates

Rowland, J. (2014). Number of instructional days/hours in the school year. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “For more than 30 years, Education Commission of the States has tracked instructional time and frequently receives requests for information about policies and trends. In this Education Trends report, Education Commission of the States addresses some of the more frequent questions, including the impact of instructional time on achievement, variation in school start dates, and trends in school day and year length.”

Woods, J. R. (2015). Instructional time trends: Education trends. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “For more than 30 years, Education Commission of the States has tracked instructional time and frequently receives requests for information about policies and trends. In this Education Trends report, Education Commission of the States addresses some of the more frequent questions, including the impact of instructional time on achievement, variation in school start dates, and trends in school day and year length.”

Research on school start time

Barnes, M., Davis, K., Mancini, M., Ruffin, J., Simpson, T., & Casazza, K. (2016). Setting adolescents up for success: Promoting a policy to delay high school start times. Journal Of School Health, 86(7), 552–557. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “A unique biological shift in sleep cycles occurs during adolescence causing later sleep and wake times. This shift is not matched by a concurrent modification in school start times, resulting in sleep curtailment for a large majority of adolescents. Chronic inadequate sleep is associated with poor academic performance including executive function impairments, mood, and behavioral issues, as well as adverse health outcomes such as an increased risk of obesity, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease. In order to address sleep deficits and the potential negative outcomes associated with chronic sleep deprivation, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) support delaying school start times for middle and high school students. We summarize current evidence, explicate the need for policy change, and urge school districts to put adolescent students' health as top priority and implement school start times consistent with their developmental needs. Whereas substantial evidence illustrating adverse consequences of inadequate sleep on psychological and physical health, and recommendations exist to adapt daytime school schedules to match sleep needs have been released, actual implementation of these recommendations have been limited. CONCLUSIONS: This is a call to action for the implementation of AAP/ CDC recommendations across the state and nation.”

Keller, P. S., Smith, O. A., Gilbert, L. R., Shuang, B., Haak, E. A., & Buckhalt, J. A. (2015). Earlier school start times as a risk factor for poor school performance: An examination of public elementary schools in the commonwealth of Kentucky. Journal of Educational Psychology, 107(1), 236–245. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Adequate sleep is essential for child learning. However, school systems may inadvertently be promoting sleep deprivation through early school start times. The current study examines the potential implications of early school start times for standardized test scores in public elementary schools in Kentucky. Associations between early school start time and poorer school performance were observed primarily for schools serving few students who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches. Associations were controlled for teacher-student ratio, racial composition, and whether the school was in the Appalachian region. Findings support the growing body of research showing that early school start times may influence student learning but offer some of the first evidence that this influence may occur for elementary school children and depend on school characteristics.”

Owens, J., Drobnich, D., Baylor, A., & Lewin, D. (2014). School start time change: An in-depth examination of school districts in the United States. Mind, Brain & Education, 8(4), 182–213. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “In response to the scientific evidence documenting both profound developmental changes in sleep and circadian biology during adolescence and the myriad of negative health, performance, and safety outcomes risks associated with chronic sleep loss, at least 70 public school districts in the United States, representing approximately 1,000 schools, have successfully implemented a delay in high school start times. However, despite the compelling evidence supporting school start time change as a key strategy in addressing the epidemic of adolescent sleep loss, many school districts across the country with early high school start times have not considered the option to implement later bell schedules for adolescents. Moreover, while the current scientific literature has clearly documented the positive outcomes associated with delayed high school start times, these studies contain limited information regarding the process by which school districts consider, approve and implement bell schedule changes. Thus, this in-depth examination of those school districts that have been successful in changing their bell schedules is intended to support the efforts of other districts in various stages of contemplating this measure. We utilized a multi-pronged approach (literature review, case studies, telephone interviews, online survey) to summarize the experiences of school districts across the United States in regard to challenges faced, strategies employed, and lessons learned in the hope that this information will be a useful tool for other school districts looking to chart a course forward to promote the health, safety, and academic opportunities of their students.”

Paksarian, D., Rudolph, K. E., Jian-Ping, H., & Merikangas, K. R. (2015). School start time and adolescent sleep patterns: Results from the US national comorbidity survey--Adolescent supplement. American Journal of Public Health, 105(7), 1351–1357. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Objectives. We estimated associations between school start time and adolescent weeknight bedtime, weeknight sleep duration, and weekend compensatory sleep and assessed whether associations differ by age, sex, or urbanicity. Methods. We used a subsample of a nationally representative, cross-sectional survey of 7308 students aged 13 to 18 years attending 245 schools to estimate associations of school start time, reported by school principals, with weeknight bedtime and sleep duration and weekend compensatory sleep, reported during adolescent face-to-face interviews. Results. Start time was positively associated with weeknight bedtime. Associations between start time and weeknight sleep duration were nonlinear and were strongest for start times of 8:00 AM and earlier. Associations differed by sex and urbanicity, with the strongest association among boys in major metropolitan counties. Start time was negatively associated with sleep duration among boys in nonurban counties. Start time was not associated with weekend compensatory sleep. Conclusions. Positive overall associations between school start time and adolescent sleep duration at the national level support recent policy recommendations for delaying school start times. However, the impact of start time delays may differ by sex and urbanicity.”

Wahlstrom, K. L. (2016). Later start time for teens improves grades, mood, and safety. Phi Delta Kappan, 98(4), 8–14. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “A recent study by the University of Minnesota looked at eight high schools across the U.S. that chose later start times, from 8:00 a.m. to 8:55 a.m. The study found significant decreases in absences and tardiness as well as greater academic benefits for schools with the latest start times. Among the 9,395 students in the study, those who slept eight or more hours each night were less likely to report symptoms of depression and fall asleep in class. Moreover, after the change to a later start time, the number of car crashes in the districts studied decreased by 13%. Included are recommendations for schools and districts considering changing their high school start times.”

Wheaton, A. G., Chapman, D. P., & Croft, J. B. (2016). School start times, sleep, behavioral, health, and academic outcomes: A review of the literature. Journal of School Health, 86(5), 363–381. Abstract retrieved from

From the abstract: “Insufficient sleep in adolescents has been shown to be associated with a wide variety of adverse outcomes, from poor mental and physical health to behavioral problems and lower academic grades. However, most high school students do not get sufficient sleep. Delaying school start times for adolescents has been proposed as a policy change to address insufficient sleep in this population and potentially to improve students' academic performance, reduce engagement in risk behaviors, and improve health. This article reviews 38 reports examining the association between school start times, sleep, and other outcomes among adolescent students. Most studies reviewed provide evidence that delaying school start time increases weeknight sleep duration among adolescents, primarily by delaying rise times. Most of the studies saw a significant increase in sleep duration even with relatively small delays in start times of half an hour or so. Later start times also generally correspond to improved attendance, less tardiness, less falling asleep in class, better grades, and fewer motor vehicle crashes. Conclusions: Although additional research is necessary, research results that are already available should be disseminated to stakeholders to enable the development of evidence-based school policies.”

Winsler, A., Deutsch, A., Vorona, R., Payne, P., & Szklo-Coxe, M. (2015). Sleepless in Fairfax: The difference one more hour of sleep can make for teen hopelessness, suicidal ideation, and substance use. Journal of Youth & Adolescence, 44(2), 362–378. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Insufficient sleep is a risk factor for depression, suicidality, and substance use, yet little is known about gender, ethnic, and community-level differences in sleep and its associated outcomes, especially during adolescence. Further, much of the prior work has compared groups of teens getting plenty as opposed to insufficient amounts of sleep rather than examine sleep hours continuously. The present study examined adolescent weekday self-reported sleep duration and its links with hopelessness, suicidality, and substance use in a suburban community with very early high school start times. We utilized a large (N = 27,939, 51.2 % female) and ethnically diverse sample of adolescents from the 2009 Fairfax County (Virginia) Youth Survey, an anonymous, self-report, population-level survey administered to all 8th, 10th and 12th grade students in public schools in the county. High-school students reported an average 6.5 h of sleep per school night, with 20% obtaining ≤5 h, and only 3 % reporting the recommended 9 h/night. Females and minority youth obtained even less sleep on average, and the reduction in sleep in the transition from middle school to high school was more pronounced for females and for Asian students. Hierarchical, multivariate, logistic regression analyses, controlling for background variables, indicated that just 1 h less of weekday sleep was associated with significantly greater odds of feeling hopeless, seriously considering suicide, suicide attempts, and substance use. Relationships between sleep duration and suicidality were stronger for male teens, and sleep duration was more associated with hopelessness for white students compared to most ethnic minority groups. Implications for intervention at multiple levels are discussed.”

Other Resources

American Academy of Pediatrics. (2014). Policy statement: School start times for adolescents. Pediatrics, 134(3), 642–649. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The American Academy of Pediatrics recognizes insufficient sleep in adolescents as an important public health issue that significantly affects the health and safety, as well as the academic success, of our nation’s middle and high school students. Although a number of factors, including biological changes in sleep associated with puberty, lifestyle choices, and academic demands, negatively affect middle and high school students’ ability to obtain sufficient sleep, the evidence strongly implicates earlier school start times (ie, before 8:30 am) as a key modifiable contributor to insufficient sleep, as well as circadian rhythm disruption, in this population. Furthermore, a substantial body of research has now demonstrated that delaying school start times is an effective countermeasure to chronic sleep loss and has a wide range of potential benefits to students with regard to physical and mental health, safety, and academic achievement. The American Academy of Pediatrics strongly supports the efforts of school districts to optimize sleep in students and urges high schools and middle schools to aim for start times that allow students the opportunity to achieve optimal levels of sleep (8.5–9.5 hours) and to improve physical (e.g., reduced obesity risk) and mental (e.g., lower rates of depression) health, safety (e.g., drowsy driving crashes), academic performance, and quality of life.”

Hinton, M. (2016). Post-Labor Day starting date sparks pitched debate in Maryland. Education Week, 36(4), 1–16. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The article discusses a controversy regarding the setting of the first day of school for Maryland public schools after Labor Day in 2017. Topics include the possible impact of a longer summer recess on educational outcomes, the relation of the change to achievement gaps, and the impact of the shift on local control of education. The role of Maryland Governor Larry Hogan in making the decision is addressed.”

Raymond, L. (2016). Labor Day is now a battleground in the fight over the school calendar. Washington DC: ThinkProgress, the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Retrieved from

Excerpt: “For many families, Labor Day is a welcome extension to the final weekend of summer, an excuse for a barbecue before fall sets in. But in school districts and states across the country, the day has also become a battleground between legislators, educators and the tourism industry. On its surface, the debate seems fairly innocuous: When should kids should go back to school?—?before or after the holiday?—?and who should have the power to decide. But the pre- or post-Labor Day debate is actually a complicated, insidious struggle. It’s a conflict that stretches back to the eighties, flaring up every few years in town halls and state legislatures. Education experts argue that shorter breaks lead to better academic outcomes, particularly for poorer communities, while local school boards insist that they need dominion over their own districts. Meanwhile, the tourism industry vehemently opposes shortening summer because it eats into their profits and robs them of seasonal employees, many of them teenagers who have to return to class.”

Ryan, M. (2016). Goodbye to the long summer: More districts shift to year-round classes to boost performance. District Administration, 52(6), 38–42. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “The article discusses the adjustment of school calendars of public schools in the U.S. The author mentions that the said initiative claims to address the issues in students’ performance wherein the one of the objective of the educational change is to reinforce learning and more frequent breaks. Also presented is the study showing students following the alternative school calendar performs significantly higher than the traditional school schedule.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • School start dates
  • School start times/ school start early/ school start late
  • School calendar
  • First day of school

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of over 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences. Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and PsychInfo.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the Publication: References and resources published for last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were included in the search and review.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations and academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: Following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types – randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, etc., generally in this order; (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, etc.), study duration, etc.; and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, etc.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-00014524, administered by WestEd. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.